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Solution to gear conflict inches forward

Discussion in 'Artificial Reefs' started by njdiver1, Mar 2, 2013.

  1. njdiver1

    njdiver1 Barracuda

    While the effort to remove commercial gear from New Jersey's artificial reefs has been moving at a glacial pace, at best, there are indications from the New Jersey DEP and Gov. Christies' office that momentum is picking up. What the solution will look like and when it will be implemented are questions that won't be answered anytime soon, but DEP Commissioner Bob Martin has indicated to a number of outdoor groups that he's anxious to get the situation resolved.

    One key reason to get the problem rectified is that New Jersey has been denied federal funds for its artificial reef program since money for the reefs comes from the U.S Sport Fish Restoration Fund, which can only be used for recreational fishing. New Jersey was cut off from these funds nearly two years ago. Reef funding also comes from an excise tax imposed on the sale of recreational fishing tackle.

    Legislation aimed at outlawing commercial gear on the reefs has passed in the New Jersey State Senate on several occasions only to be stymied in the Assembly. Peter Grimbilas, chairman of the Reef Rescue Fund, who has been fighting this battle in the legislature for the past six years, said the issue has really gained some traction in past three months or so.

    The recent movement can be attributed to one simple word: compromise.

    Because the reefs were funded and built for recreational use, a number of outdoor groups were solidly against the idea that any portions of the artificial reefs should be used for commercial fishing. Commercial interests argued that because sections of the reef were built on naturally occurring structure and these were historic fishing grounds in use for years, commercial fishermen should have access to them. A stalemate ensued.

    During a conversation with Grimbilas in December, Commissioner Martin told him that nothing will be accomplished unless there is compromise. He asked Grimbilas and other members of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance Conservation Foundation to come up with a list of conditions that would appease most of the members.

    "We canvassed the members of the NJOA and asked them what will make you accept a compromise," said Grimbilas.

    On that list were a number of stipulations, chief among them were that any regulation would satisfy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requirements for the restoration of federal funds and that the state would petition the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council for SMZ designation for all of New Jersey's offshore reefs.

    In addition, if commercial gear were to be allowed on a small segment (16 percent) of the state's two inshore reefs, the state would build a new reef equal to or greater in area that will be designated exclusively for recreational use.

    In a letter dated Feb. 7 to Anthony Mauro, chairman of the NJOA, Commissioner Martin wrote "that as part of a proposed compromise between recreational and commercial fishing communities, the DEP will commit to establish commercial zones within each of the two in-state reefs, create a new state reef and petition the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) for Special Management Zone (SMZ) regulations for the existing 13 reefs in federal waters that essentially prohibit the use of pot gear."

    "The 23 council members of the NJOA (CF), which include some of the largest salt water fishing organizations in New Jersey, are excited by the proposals because it would both eliminate gear conflicts --- and equitably represents the interests of the recreational angler," said Mauro

    "This is a major movement by the DEP," said Grimbilas. "It's important to note that this is only a proposal at this time, and the NJOA (CF) is currently reviewing it. The NJOA (CF) has not announced any agreement, nor has the Christie Administration to our knowledge."

    The Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) also reported movement on the effort to remove commercial gear from New Jersey's reefs while preserving the commercial sector's access to those reefs.

    "Anglers and angler groups have been fighting hard for over six years to address the access issues at New Jersey's artificial reef complex and I think we're finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel," said Jim Donofrio, executive director of the RFA. .

    Donofrio said the Governor's office appears to be in agreement with a 2012 legislative appeal by Assemblyman Nelson Albano, chairman of the New Jersey Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which would prohibit commercial fixed gear from over 95 percent of New Jersey's two inshore artificial reef areas.

    Chairman Albano's legislation would also prohibit all fixed gear from the state reef system during the prime recreational fishing period from May 15 to Oct. 1, while simultaneously directing the NJDEP to initiate a pot management plan for state officials to account and monitor the actual number of fish pots presently deployed --- and by whom --- in New Jersey coastal waters.

    "Whatever come out of the governor's office we'll embrace.," said Jim Hutchinson, executive director of the RFA.

    "We support the effort by the Governor's office, providing that it allows the potting to continue only on the traditional areas that have minimally deployed materials as expressed by Chairman Albano in his legislation," said Capt. Adam Nowalsky, chairman of the RFA-NJ chapter.

    Whatever solution is adopted, don't expect it to come too quickly. It will probably be another two years before this situation is resolved. But at least now there is some activity.


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