2/28/13 – NJ Governor To Act on “Pots Off Reef”

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RFA Praises Christie Administration For Regulatory Pledge

 The Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) says the issue with commercial traps littering New Jersey’s artificial reefs may soon finally be addressed comprehensively by the Governor’s office.

RFA executive director Jim Donofrio said that he and RFA-NJ members have had several productive meetings with both the Governor’s staff and high-level members of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), and feels strongly that the Christie Administration is serious about tackling the pots issue once and for all.

“Anglers and angler groups have been fighting hard for over six years to address the access issues at New Jersey’s artificial reef complex because of fixed commercial gear along the structure, and I think we’re finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel,” said Donofrio.

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% of the deployed reef materials at 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 October 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.

RFA Key Angler Considerations For Any Proposed Reef Trapping Regulation

1) Limit gear at state reefs to only traditional areas with minimally deployed reef materials

2) No gear during summer months (May 15 to October 1)

3) Pursue a pot plan to address where the gear is going

“RFA is thankful that the Governor and his staff has worked with leadership from both sides of the aisle along with the NJDEP and the Commissioner’s office, to solve the problem with reef access, and we’re hopeful that that the final regulation will incorporate a pot management plan and also resolve the conflict with federal funding,” said RFA managing director Jim Hutchinson in an NJDEP press release which was expected to be released this past fall.  Regrettably, opposing political pressure in early October coupled with the devastating superstorm has thus far tabled release of the governor’s proposed reef trapping regulation.

“This reef issue has become such a political football, again Governor Christie is proving to be a problem-solver who can bring all sides together for a winning effort,” Hutchinson added.

RFA said that NJDEP Commission Bob Martin has personally stressed a need by his office to improve access for state anglers overall while also allowing for traditional fisheries in a small portion of bottom structure around the Axel Carlson and Sandy Hook reef sites, and has already drafted a regulatory fix for the Governor to consider.  RFA said part of the ongoing conflict between commercial and recreational interests has to do with a small portion of natural structure located inside New Jersey’s two state reefs where artificial reef materials have been deposited over the years.  RFA is hopeful that the Christie plan will ultimately address the core issues pertaining to fixed commercial gear and the state’s reef system.

“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.  “Furthermore, the state’s reef program must resume either by the allowed use of federal funding or by the state finding other means to fund the program.”  Nowalsky added that a key consideration from the Albano legislation that is vital for resource protection in New Jersey waters is a pot management plan through which NJDEP can properly account for the actual amount of fixed gear deployed in coastal waters.

Rather than continue to push through time-consuming legislative channels, RFA is hoping that a regulatory fix from the Governor himself with support from the NJDEP will ultimately put this overall access, funding and conservation issue to rest once and for all.

“RFA has never stopped working on this issue and have met with the Governor’s staff several times over the year to get their help in forcing new regulation,” Donofrio said.  “We’re hopeful that the regulatory fix coming down from the Governor’s office will not only address the access issues on the reefs but will also deal with the conservation issue in terms of what happens to that gear when it gets deployed along natural structure within state waters.”

RFA said that once the angler access issue is addressed at New Jersey’s two inshore reefs through a regulatory change, the state can then move forward with special management zone (SMZ) privilege through the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council on all of New Jersey’s 13 reef sites, as has been recently done in Delaware through the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council.  Donofrio said a comprehensive pot management plan will allow the NJDEP to deal with any displaced commercial effort from federal waters off Delaware into New Jersey’s state waters.

RFA also remains hopeful that the Governor’s plan will allow federal funding to once again be dedicated to New Jersey reef building and maintenance efforts.  “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said New Jersey could no longer use federal Sportfish Restoration funds on artificial reef work until this conflict was resolved which forced the NJDEP to apply that federal money somewhere else in the state’s fish and wildlife initiatives,” Donofrio said, adding “with Governor Christie being so dedicated to resolving the conflict and freeing up that funding for reef efforts moving forward, I’m confident that the federal funding issue will be fixed as well.”

 

The Recreational Fishing Alliance is a national, grassroots political action organization representing recreational fishermen and the recreational fishing industry on marine fisheries issues. RFA’s Mission is to safeguard the rights of saltwater anglers, protect marine, boat and tackle industry jobs, and ensure the long-term sustainability of our Nation’s saltwater fisheries. For more information, call 888-JOIN-RFA or visit www.rfa.tvsdev.com