Q & A #5: It's Really Very Simple.
Q. What does the black market tautog fishery have to do with getting traps off reefs?
A. The black market tautog fishery is a totally separate issue from the need to get traps off the reefs. Conflicts on the reefs are being caused by all kinds of gear - it is not a matter of illegal traps or the species caught. Recreational anglers and divers are being restricted by all fixed gear; lobster, fish and conch. Each type of fixed gear presents the same restrictions to anglers and divers trying to fish the reefs.
Fixed gear restricts access to anglers and divers; these are the people who paid for the reefs. The problem is not with a few illegal traps, but instead with the licensed trappers that set thousands of traps with tens-of-thousands of feet of line. This fixed gear is left in place for months at a time.
According to Bill Figley, retired Coordinator, NJ Artificial Reef Program, "I've spent 27 years working with the ocean reefs. Anyone who fishes or dives the reefs frequently sees trap boats, with two-foot high license numbers across their sides , tending their trap lines. All of the fixed gear restricts angler and diver access, not just a few illegal traps."
During the "traps off the reefs" legislative hearings in Trenton the licensed trappers fought hard to defeat the legislation that would prohibit their fixed gear. The reason is that they are setting thousands of traps on reefs. It is fixed gear of all types that is restricting recreational anglers and divers from accessing the reefs. It is for this reason that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) terminated funding for the New Jersey Artificial Reef Program.
Q. Is it true that it's complicated to remove fixed gear from the reefs?
A. It wasn't complicated for Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia and New York to remove fixed gear from their reefs. It does not appear that Delaware is having any complications in their effort to remove fixed gear from their reefs.
The key to successfully having fixed gear removed from the reefs in New Jersey is no different than the way it was accomplished in other state and federal waters. New Jersey legislators and policy makers need to work with the USFWS to ensure New Jersey law satisfies the terms of the Sport Fish Restoration Act.
Q. Is it necessary for Bill A1152 to address other fisheries management issues?
A. No, fisheries management issues and removing commercial fixed gear from the artificial reefs are two separate matters. Combining the two appears to be an effort by the commercial fishing lobby to cause confusion and delay the removal of fixed gear from the reefs. Bill A1152 addresses removal of gear in New Jersey?s State waters.
For the 13 New Jersey reefs in federal waters, the only way to have fixed gear removed is by obtaining Special Management Zone (SMZ) status from the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC). SMZ status allows reef permit holders to restrict gear that conflicts with the intended uses of reefs. Therefore, trawls and dredges could be prohibited because they destroy reef structures, gill nets get tangled in structure and trap gear restricts access to the intended users; anglers and divers.
Q. Will current state legislation (Bill A1152) bring New Jersey into compliance with USFWS provisions and restore Federal funding to the New Jersey Reef Program?
A. At the time Bill A1152 was written it may have, however, Delaware recently jumped ahead of New Jersey in getting the commercial fixed gear off their reefs and seems to have set a higher standard. The USFWS recently recommended that New Jersey amend its legislation and make it similar to Delaware, which would change the buffer zone around reefs from 100 to 300 feet and clarify the locations of New Jersey?s reefs.
Reef site boundaries should be defined so that everyone knows the areas covered by law. As with Delaware, this might be done by adding the following language to Bill A1152: "the coordinates of New Jersey permitted reef sites are defined in US Army Corps of Engineers Permit CENAP-OP-R-200401135-1 and any other updated permits subsequently issued and as depicted on NOAA charts 12326, 12323, 12318 and 12224."
Amending a Bill is straightforward and a common occurrence, it can be handled easily and quickly. All recreational anglers and divers need to do is continue to request that Bill A1152 be heard, the rest will work itself out.
NOTE: The NJOA and Reef Rescue have met with Assemblyman Albano and have discussed all of the above aspects. We have emphasized that New Jersey legislators work with the USFWS to ensure compliance with the Sport Fish Restoration Act so that the restoration of funding for the reefs will be achieved as soon as possible. We have stressed that extemporaneous issues be addressed using other mediums since they might indefinitely delay the restoration of Federal funds or even work to kill Bill A1152.
(Answers provided by Bill Figley, retired Coordinator, NJ Artificial Reef Program and Anthony Mauro, Chair, New Jersey Outdoor Alliance)
You can also write your legislator!
People can use the link that follows to send a prewritten letter requesting that bill A-1152 be heard in the Assembly, which allows for public access (hook and line, and spear fishing) to ocean reefs as intended by the Federal Sport Fish Restoration Program.