Report on NJ Assembly Meeting on Pots off the Reef Bill

By John Toth

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association April 2012 Newsletter)

Background

Members of the Assembly Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Assembly Committee Chairman Nelson T. Albano, held a hearing on Bill A-2645 (Pots Off the Reef) on March 8th at the State House Annex in Trenton to determine if this bill should be approved by this committee and be moved to NJ’s Assembly for approval. The Pots off the Reef Bill has been the focus of recreational anglers for approximately eight (8) years in our efforts to remove commercial gear from the two reefs in NJ’s waters (Sandy Hook and Axel Carlson). Although we have been able to get bills we supported approved several times by NJ’s Senate members, it has been blocked from a hearing by past Assembly Speaker Roberts, and the current Chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee, Nelson Albano. If the bill does not get posted for a vote on the Assembly docket, it does not pass. In 2011, even though the Pots Off the Reef Bill had over 50 sponsors in the Assembly last year, Chairman Nelson Albano did not move it forward to a vote in the Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee.

What is different this time is that this new Assembly bill reflects a compromise solution in that sections of the two reefs would permit commercial anglers to deploy their gear and be restricted to these specific zones. Essentially, Committee Chairman Albano said that this Pot Bill has been a source of contention for a number of years between the commercial and recreational anglers and that he wanted to propose a compromise solution to bring this issue to closure.

Problems with Bill A-2645

There are a number of problems that surfaced in testimony with this bill that need resolution and they are:

  • The coordinates showing the sections that the commercial anglers could deploy their gear as presented were incredibly all wrong. They need to be corrected so that it can be determined what percentages of the reefs that the commercials are actually getting. They can be as high as 23% on Sandy Hook and 12% on Axel Carlson.
  • The issue of future Federal funding for the reefs may continue to be jeopardized since Federal law requires that the usage of the reefs must be accessible to everybody, just like a public park. Restricting sections of the reefs appears to violate this regulation. There has been no input from the Federal authorities on this issue before the bill was released. Assemblyman Albano indicated that he has had difficulties in contacting the Federal authorities to get a ruling on this bill.
  • Who will enforce this bill? Divers would have to go the reefs on a periodic basis to determine if the commercial gear has been confined to their allocated positions and not moved to recreational sections of the reefs. The Division of Fish & Wildlife is under severe monetary constraints and does not have the money and employees to enforce this bill.
  • How will this bill affect the thirteen reefs in Federal waters? Will these reefs need to have sections set aside for commercial gear like the two reefs in our waters?
Reefs
Sandy Hook Reef
Axel Carlson Reef

Testimony on this Bill

The Garden State Seafood representative, Scott Mackey, testified in favor of this bill claiming that the commercials had “Historic Rights” to have gear on the reefs. Adam Nowalsky from the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) also spoke in favor of this bill.

Voting against this bill was John Toth representing the JCAA, along with Marvin Aleski from the Hudson River Fisherman’s Association, Don Marantz (Newark Bait & Fly Casting Club, JCAA), Noel Angelucci from Fortescue Anglers and Ron Nachmann from South Jersey Saltwater Anglers. Their testimony mirrored the issues in the above bullets. Pete Grimbilas from The New Jersey Outdoor Alliance and Reef Rescue wanted the bill delayed since the coordinates were wrong and the Federal approval for this bill was not confirmed. Paul Haertel from the Berkeley Striper Club opposed the bill but testified that his club might reconsider provided a number of changes were made. The NJ Council of Dive Clubs abstained since they did not have a chance to contact their membership on this bill because of the short time it came to committee. Bill Figley read to Committee members the Federal regulations that stipulate that the reefs are for usage by everybody, not a select few. He further stated that they were specifically created for use by recreational fishermen and divers. The Fish Hawks provided a written statement to the committee opposing this bill. Ron Nachmann also made the point that if you have dog with a five-foot leash, he will walk at the end of the five-foot leash. If you extend this leash further, he will walk to the longest point of the leash. If there is money involved, the commercial gear will keep on extending on the reefs from their restricted zone to eventually cover the reefs.

Committee Voting Record

The bill moved out of committee since it was only approved by the Democrats on this committee including: Assembly members Wilson, Caride, and Albano. Republican members Dancer and Clifton abstained.

JCAA President Joseph Puntasecca could not testify on behalf of the JCAA because of a medical issue. I read a prepared testimony to the committee that the JCAA does NOT SUPPORT this bill and that the Senate version of it should be passed that moves the commercial gear off the reefs!

The testimony I gave on behalf of the JCAA follows:

 

Assembly Testimony on A-2645

We would like to thank the committee for holding this hearing on an issue that is very important to the recreational fishing community. JCAA has had no time to review the bill that you are discussing today since it was released yesterday. However, it does not appear that this bill will address our major concerns about the artificial reefs.

While this may not be the intention of the sponsor, we believe this bill is simply a delaying tactic. It does not solve the problem or address the issues from the perspective of the recreational fishing community. It also does not address the ruling of the Fish and Wildlife Service that denies the use of their Sport Fish Restoration Program by the Division of Fish and Wildlife on New Jersey’s artificial reef program.

The reason JCAA feels this bill is only a delaying tactic is that this bill does not in law regulate the gear restrictions on the artificial reef. It redirects this effort back to the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council. In 10 years the NJ Marine Fisheries Council has been unable to address this problem and it is unlikely they will be able to do so now. There is a basic flaw in the NJ Marine Fisheries Council since the recreational community has four (4) votes and the commercial community has 5 votes. When problems with the artificial reef were first brought to the Council before, there were never enough votes for passage. Recent history confirms this inequity. Last Thursday, the recreational members of the NJ Marine Fisheries Council introduced a proposal on the recreational regulations for 2012. The commercial community, even though this had no impact on them, made a motion and voted for a measure that was not supported by many of the recreational members. Because of this inequity, we never accomplish anything for recreational anglers. This is like one part rule with never an election to change the balance. We need the Legislature to step up and solve this problem with appropriate legislation.

The NJ Senate passed a bill three times by an overwhelming vote. This is the bill that the JCAA supports. Last session, 43 Assemblymen and women, including members of this committee, supported the Senate bill. When the Assembly version on the Senate bill was introduced in the Assembly in January, it had 44 sponsors. That is a bipartisan majority of the members of the Assembly.

This is the bill that should be posted for a vote in this committee. This is the bill that has the overwhelming support of the 800,000 recreational anglers in New Jersey. This is the bill that would solve the problem, not just delay the solution for another five (5) years.

If the commercial community wants artificial reefs, they should fund them and build them the same way the recreational community has. According to studies, 40% of the fish caught by recreational anglers to take home and eat come from the artificial reefs.

What this discussion frequently ignores is the job loss in New Jersey’s recreational community. By moving the pots off the artificial reefs, you will not cause the loss of one job in the commercial community. But by your inaction, you are causing many job losses in the recreational community because many recreational anglers have simply given up the sport they love. Loss of access to the artificial reefs plays a major role in this loss of jobs.

JCAA is asking you to scrap this bill! At the next meeting of the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, we want you to post the Assembly version of bill S1177 that will address these problems. Passage of that bill will also allow for the restoration of funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to the artificial reef program.


Sincerely,
Joseph Puntasecca
President
Jersey Coast Anglers Association

 

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