NJOA: Pots Off Reefs
NJOA: Bill S-1957 Possible Violation of Federal Policy
Belmar, NJ Bill S-1597 was recently introduced by Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-District 1) that would divide New Jersey's two state-managed artificial reef sites for commercial and recreational use. The New Jersey Outdoor Conservation Foundation strongly opposes the measure.
NJOA(CF) has a history of testifying before senate and assembly committees that commercial fixed gear on artificial reefs act to obstruct recreational access. Although commercial fishing on artificial reefs is not a violation of Federal Aid to Sportfishing regulations and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Policies, State Grant Programs 522 FW22 are explicit that such use cannot interfere with the purposes for which the lands are managed. In New Jersey's case the artificial reefs were constructed and are managed for the purposes of recreational anglers and sport divers.
"Federal regulations and policy are used as the basis of grant programs that provide federal funding for artificial reef management. Violation of the grant objectives may not only cause New Jersey to forfeit federal funding, but fines may also be assessed retroactively for all years New Jersey is found to be out of compliance," said NJOA(CF) chairman Anthony P Mauro Sr. He went on to say "Retroactive fines could cost the state millions of dollars."
NJOA(CF) council members JCAA, Reef Rescue and NJ Council of Divers have also been involved in discussions with legislators seeking compromise between commercial and recreational representatives. Unfortunately, Federal regulations and policy do not appear to provide areas of compromise when commercial activities interfere with the purposes for which the artificial reefs are managed.
"In fact," said Mauro, "In a letter addressed to me from the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Fish and Wildlife, the department proclaims unequivocal support for restricting fishing on the reefs to hook-and-line and spear and removal of fixed gear." The letter was partly in response to a NJOA(CF) request for clarification on artificial reef usage and may also have been prompted by a separate letter from the US Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service.
NJDEP has stated it would also petition the federal government to have fixed gear removed from the artificial reefs in federal waters. Additionally, it is recommended that a comprehensive state policy detailing pot limits might be useful in reducing gear conflicts, although it is not necessary for the petitioning or removal of fixed gear.
"We can easily deceive ourselves into believing the matter is complicated by politicizing the issue, pointing fingers and attempting to insert ourselves into resolving bigger issues such as turf conflicts," Mauro said. "But the essence of the issue is as simple as doing the right thing for the right reason. New Jersey's 800,000 recreational anglers deserve better than Bill S-1957. It does not adequately address the problems caused by commercial fixed gear on artificial reefs, would be difficult to enforce and if it became law might formalize New Jersey's violation of federal regulations and policy, an act that would jeopardize federal funding."