Assemblyman Albano, Chairman of the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee posted a Pots off the Reefs Compromise Bill his committee yesterday. The bill passed through committee and a companion bill is expected to be posted by Senator VanDrew in the Senate. This bill would allow commercial fishermen to utilize 15-25% of the Axel Carlson and Sandy Hook Reefs that are in state waters. It is very concerning that the bill was only released the night before and voted on the next day. Then rather than to amend it or table it, it was pushed through in its current form which does not address the desires of the vast majority of recreational fishermen. Assemblyman Albano suggested that these changes be made in Senator VanDrew?s anticipated bill but I would rather have had it done right the first time. This is an issue that we have been trying to resolve for over 5 years. Garden State Seafood was there representing the commercial fishing industry and spoke in favor of the bill. Only one recreational fishing organization spoke in favor of the bill. Most of the other 10 or so recreational fishing organizations opposed the bill though a couple of them asked for it to be tabled or abstained because the information became available on such short notice. Listen to the testimony yourself by clicking on the link below. It probably lasts about 45 minutes but if you care about our reefs, you will find it very interesting. Below is the position of the JCAA on the bill followed by position of the Berkeley Striper Club.
Paul Haertel 2nd V.P. JCAA, Legislative Committee Chairman, BSC
Pots Off the Reefs Compromise Bill
Passes Assembly Committee
Assembly bill A2645, that establishes restrictions and requirements for use of fishing gear and conch, fishing, and lobster pots on artificial reefs, has passed out of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee by a vote of 3 in favor and 2 abstentions.
You can listen to the proceedings of the committee hearing by clicking here.
Below is a copy of the testimony given by Jersey Coast Anglers Association yesterday at the hearing.
We would like to thank the committee for holding this hearing on an issue that is very important to the recreational fishing community. JCAA has had no time to review the bill that you are discussing today since it was released yesterday. However, it does not appear that this bill will address our major concerns about the artificial reefs.
While this may not be the intention of the sponsor, we believe this bill is simply a delaying tactic. It does not solve the problem or address the issues from the perspective of the recreational fishing community. It also does not address the ruling of the Fish and Wildlife Service that denies the use of their Sport Fish Restoration Program by the Division of Fish and Wildlife on New Jersey's artificial reef program.
The reason JCAA feels this bill is only a delaying tactic is that this bill does not in law regulate the gear restrictions on the artificial reef. It redirects this effort back to the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council. In 10 years the NJ Marine Fisheries Council has been unable to address this problem and it is unlikely they will be able to do so now. There is a basic flaw in the NJ Marine Fisheries Council since the recreational community has four (4) votes and the commercial community has 5 votes. When problems with the artificial reef was first brought to the Council before, there were never enough votes for passage. Recent history confirms this inequity. Last Thursday, the recreational members of the NJ Marine Fisheries Council introduced a proposal on the recreational regulations for 2012. The commercial community, even though this had no impact on them, made a motion and voted for a measure that was not supported by many of the recreational members. Because of this inequity, we never accomplish anything for recreational anglers. This is like one part rule with never an election to change the balance. We need the Legislature to step up and solve this problem with appropriate legislation.
The NJ Senate passed a bill three times by an overwhelming vote. This is the bill that the JCAA supports. Last session, 43 Assemblymen and women, including members of this committee, supported the Senate bill. When the Assembly version on the Senate bill was introduced in the Assembly in January, it had 44 sponsors. That is a bipartisan majority of the members of the Assembly.
This is the bill that should be posted for a vote in this committee. This is the bill that has the overwhelming support of the 800,000 recreational anglers in New Jersey. This is the bill that would solve the problem, not just delay the solution for another five (5) years.
If the commercial community wants artificial reefs, they should fund them and build them the same way the recreational community has. According to studies, 40% of the fish caught by recreational anglers to take home and eat come from the artificial reefs.
What this discussion frequently ignores is the job loss in New Jersey's recreational community. By moving the pots off the artificial reefs, you will not cause the loss of one job in the commercial community. But by your inaction, you are causing many job losses in recreational community because many recreational anglers have simply given up the sport they love. Loss of access to the artificial reefs plays a major role in this loss of jobs.
JCAA is asking you to scrap this bill! At the next meeting of the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, we want you to post the Assembly version of bill S1177 that will address these problems. Passage of that bill will also allow for the restoration of funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to the artificial reef program.
Jersey Coast Anglers Association
Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee,
On behalf of the Berkeley Striper Club, I would like to thank Assemblyman Albano and the committee for this hearing on A2645, an issue that is very important to the recreational fishermen of our state. Our club's long standing position has been that we do not believe commercial pots belong on the reefs and we have not been willing to compromise.
However, it is my personal belief that our club might reconsider if certain issues in Assemblyman Albano's bill are clarified or amended.
Our primary concern is that this bill would have to insure that the federal funding for our reef program would be restored.
We are also concerned that the bill does not in itself establish gear restrictions, rather it directs the NJMFC to address the problem. We have serious doubts on whether they would do this or not because the commercial sector has 5 votes on the council as compared to only 4 on the recreational side. Therefore we fear that action on getting the pots off the reefs would be endlessly delayed.
In all other states that have banned commercial pots from reefs in their state waters, the federal government has also prohibited them from reefs in federal waters off the coast of their respective states. We are concerned that if we dedicate a portion of our state reefs to the commercial sector, the federal government might do the same for our reefs that are in federal waters.
We are also concerned about enforceability issues if portions of the reefs are dedicated to the commercial fishermen. We would like more time to review the exact coordinates included in the proposal.
Further, if portions of our reefs are dedicated to the commercial fishermen, these areas will in all likelihood become crowded with pots thereby making recreational fishing there futile. If organizations or individuals paid to have a structure placed on the commercial section of the reef they would need to be reimbursed so that perhaps a new structure could be dedicated in an area established for recreational fishing. It would be wrong to allow commercial fishing over a structure that may have been dedicated in memory of a loved one. Also, it is my understanding that the state may have to pay back the federal government for their contribution to placing structures in the commercial area. It is our belief that any such reimbursements should come from the commercial sector rather than from our state.
Last year we had a bill that would have removed the pots from the reefs passed in the Senate.
Despite the fact that the vast majority of assemblymen signed as co-sponsors to a companion bill, it was never released from committee. I understand that the reason may have been due to the fact that it would have not been sufficient to restore our federal funding. However, Senate bill 1177 in now awaiting a full hearing in the Senate. This bill would remove the pots from our reefs and restore our federal funding.
We urge the assembly to introduce a similar bill or to modify Assemblyman Albano's bill to address our concerns. Thank you for your consideration in this matter.
BSC Legislative Committee Chairman