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Traps Off the 13 Artificial Reefs in Federal Waters & 2 New Ones

by John Toth
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association July 2017 Newsletter)

Federal Waters - In the JCAA's December 2016 newsletter, there was extensive coverage of the December 12th Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAMFC) meeting that voted to approve making the 13 artificial reefs in federal waters as Special Management Zones (SMZ's). This was the culmination of a hard fight by the JCAA, NJOA, NJ Federation of Sportsmen's Club working together to press the MAMFC to vote for approval of SMZ status. We are waiting for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to give its approval for the SMZ status of these reefs. So that this approval does not fall off the radar of NMFS, I wrote a letter that went out on a JCAA letterhead to Mr. John Bullard, Northeast Regional Administrator, to approve these 13 reefs as SMZ's. If approved, and we certainly hope so, this status will remove the traps off these reefs and make fishing on them as hook & line only. Fishing this way will be free of the traps that have snared our fishing gear for so many years!

Local Waters - New Artificial Reef Near Manasquan Inlet - A patch of ocean bottom, 1.7 nautical miles southeast of Manasquan Inlet, will be the site of a new artificial reef for use only by recreational fishermen and divers, the state Division of Fish & Wildlife recently announced. The use of fixed commercial gear, such as traps, is excluded from this reef site.

This new reef is part of a compromise agreement reached in 2015 that settled fishing gear use and access to artificial reefs between recreational and commercial fishermen. This deal restricted commercial fishermen on placing their traps on certain sections of the Sandy Hook and Axel Carlson reefs. It also called for the construction of a new reef for recreational fishing and divers only in state waters. When fully developed, this new Manasquan Inlet reef will occupy nearly one square mile of seafloor in water 67 feet to 74 feet deep.

A second reef for recreational anglers and divers only is planned for the Delaware Bay located 9.2 nautical miles southwest of the mouth of Cumberland County’s Maurice River and it will also be almost one square mile at depths 23 to 35 feet. Both of these two new reefs will have ships, big boulders, etc., dumped on them at various time intervals. It will take approximately 10 years for them to become completely built out.

The JCAA, New Jersey Outdoor Alliance (NJOA) and other clubs and associations worked very hard to make this all happen by first restricting commercial traps at the Sandy Hook and Axel Carlson reefs. To accomplish this, we wrote letters and post cards, attended meetings, made phone calls, sent emails and even held a demonstration by the office of an Assemblyman who was blocking this effort. It took almost 10 years to remove most of the commercial traps off the Sandy Hook and Axel Carlson reefs, but we will have two new reefs built for our exclusive use with no commercial traps allowed on them. A long and hard struggle that paid off for us in the long run!

In regard to fishing management issues, it takes tenacity since resolution to fishing issues move at glacial speed. But with this one, tenacity made this win possible.

Below is the letter that I sent to John Bullard, the Northeast Regional Administrator.

Mr. John Bullard, Northeast Regional Administrator National Marine Fisheries Service 55 Great Republic Drive Gloucester MA. 01930
Dear John,

At the December 2016 MAMFC meeting, this Council voted to recommend that the National Marine Fisheries Service designate the 13 artificial reefs in federal waters off the coast of New Jersey as year-round special management zones (SMZs).

This would allow access to all anglers who use hook & line to catch fish and not get their gear hung up on traps and other obstacles We are looking forward to using these reefs without the problems that recreational anglers have been experiencing for such a long time.

Please let us know the status of this SMZ designation and the timetable for its completion. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

John Toth President, Jersey Coast Anglers Association (JCAA) President, New Jersey Outdoor Alliance (NJOA) President, Salt Water Anglers of Bergen County (SWABC)
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