Fisheries Management & Legislative Report
by Tom Fote
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association June 2002 Newsletter)
Saltwater Fishing License
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Meeting
Fishing Regulations are Driving Fishermen Crazy
Thanks For Your Support
I saw an editorial in Saltwater Sportsman Magazine making a pitch for a saltwater fishing license. When I first got involved in JCAA, Fish and Wildlife was already pushing for a saltwater license. I remember staffing booths and gathering signatures on petitions opposing a saltwater license. JCAA still has these petitions on file. Times have changed and I know some anglers believe that the money raised with a saltwater license could be a quick fix for our problems. It is interesting that freshwater anglers feel that saltwater anglers should make the same contribution they do.
We already have a saltwater license in New Jersey at the federal level if you fish for highly migratory species. We are paying $28 to count the number of boats fishing for tuna. Of course, it isn't called a license. That would require a vote by the Congress. The President, through the Secretary of Commerce, allowed for a permit. The National Marine Fisheries Service now wants to expand the permit to include anyone fishing for any highly migratory species. The money goes into the general fund. It is interesting that New Jersey, with a $28 freshwater license, can stock all the lakes, streams and rivers and hire sufficient law enforcement. All the federal government does for $28 is count the number of permits. It is a fine example of how we waste money. The only thing accomplished with this permit is to reduce the number of anglers fishing for tuna and decrease the bag limit while increasing the regulations. Maybe this is a move to reduce the number of recreational anglers.
The recreational fishing community pays a considerable amount of taxes on tackle (regular sales tax plus 10% excise tax that goes into the Wallop-Breaux Fund). We also find ourselves taxed in other ways. We pay boat registration fees. That money goes into the general fund and is not earmarked for any fishing or environmental activities. Remember, only recreational anglers pay a boat fuel tax. Commercial, charter and party boats do not pay this tax. We get a lot of promises but very little action for our fuel tax. At this time New Jersey is proposing to double the boat registration fee, again putting this money into the general fund.
Freshwater license fees are earmarked for freshwater activities, stocking lakes and streams, providing access, and providing adequate law enforcement. The New Jersey Fish and Game Council plays a significant role in decisions about how this money is spent. They can also hire and fire the director of Fish and Game. The whole process that puts people on the Fish and Game Council is very democratic. People are nominated, voted for by their peers and approved by the Governor. We don't get surprises. People who serve on the Fish and Game Council really understand the resource and the needs of the people they represent.
The only equivalents on the marine side are the Shellfish Councils and the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council. The Shellfish Council does not even have a recreational member. At the first Shellfish Council meeting I attended, there was a discussion by all four council members about eliminating recreational clamming. Yet they use the $100,000 generated by recreational licenses to serve their own needs. The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council's membership is not a democratic selection. Political considerations are more important than the needs of either the commercial or recreational community. There are more commercial than recreational members on this council and this council could not make fair decisions about how to spend the funds generated by a recreational license.
So where do I actually stand on the issue of a saltwater license? I have given this a lot of thought. $25 is very little money to some of us and a large amount to others. There are many anglers who fish on docks and piers and from the beach to supplement their diet. They use the least expensive tackle available. What guarantee would we have that people who cannot afford $25 dollars would not be eliminated from fishing? Before I would consider a saltwater license, I would need these preliminary concerns addressed:
1. The fee would have to be dedicated for just saltwater recreational fishing needs.
2. The people who pay the license fee would have control over how the money is spent.
3. The recreational fishing community appoints the people who control how the money is spent. There should be a limited appointment similar to the Fish and Game Council.
4. Any fee increase must first be approved by the new council and then voted on by the Legislature and signed by the Governor.
5. The license procedure must be user friendly and not create more bureaucracy.
6. We must not penalize our out-of -state anglers with larger fees. This would have a negative impact on the entire recreational industry and tourism.
These points are only the beginning of the discussion that must precede any consideration of a saltwater license. A saltwater fishing license is not a cure-all to protect recreational fishing. It has not accomplished this goal in states where it already exists. A saltwater license was discussed at the last JCAA meeting and there was a wide diversity of opinion. This discussion will continue.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Meeting will take place between our publishing date and the next JCAA meeting. I will give a report at the next JCAA meeting. There will be meetings of the Striped Bass Board and the Advisory Board. There will also be meetings of the Weakfish Board and the Advisory Board. We should have a lot of interesting information to discuss at our next meeting.
I have been fishing in the Hudson River Estuary a few times in recent weeks. Now I understand why everyone is so confused. If I am fishing on the New Jersey side before May 8th I could keep two striped bass, one 28 inches and one between 24 and 28 inches. If I was part of the bonus tag program I could keep an additional fish. If I am fishing on the New York side of the Hudson River below the George Washington Bridge, I could not keep a striped bass until May 8th and I would only keep one fish at 28 inches. If I am fishing above the George Washington Bridge, I could keep one striped bass at 18 inches. Summer flounder is even more ridiculous. New York's season is open right now with 7 fish at 17 inches. New Jersey 's fishery won't open until May 18th with 8 fish at 16 1/2 inches. New Jersey will close long before New York.
I realize if I was running my own boat in this waterway and was unfamiliar with the area, I would definitely need machines that could show me where I was every moment in the water. Even if I caught the fish legally in New York and drifted into New Jersey, I might still be fined. The same holds true if I drift from New Jersey to New York.
We face the same problem between Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. When I was in the military and later in business school, we all used the expression "KISS." Fisheries managers need to learn the "KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID" rule.
I want to thank everyone who sent letters in support of my appointment by Governor McGreevey to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Governor McGreevey sent my name to the NJ Senate Judiciary Committee on May 7th for approval. This responsibility will require more of my time and energy but I believe I can represent all the citizens of New Jersey. In the eleven years I have volunteered my time and served on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, I always believed my job was to protect the resource first and then make sure the commercial, dive and recreational industry is treated fairly in any management plan. That opinion has not changed. Making sure the commercial, dive and recreational fishing industry is treated fairly always is the tough part of the equation.
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