Report on May 10th Meeting with NJ DEP Assistant Commissioner Ray Bukowski

by John Toth
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association June 2021 Newsletter)

In an effort to obtain feedback on what recreational anglers think that are important issues facing this industry, Ray Bukowski, Assistant Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, convened a meeting on May 10th at the Assunpink Central Region Office with invited anglers and members of the NJ DEP. The recreational anglers included: John Toth (JCAA), John DePersenaire (RFA), Rob Winkel (NJOA), Ed Goldman (RFA, NJ), and Dick Herb, NJ Marine Fisheries Council. Representatives from the NJ DEP included: David Golden, Director, Fish & Wildlife, Joe Cimino, Administrator, Marine Fisheries, and Jeff Brust, Research Scientist, Fish & Wildlife.

This meeting had no set agenda since it was basically a brainstorming session on future objectives the NJ DEP can work toward to support and improve access and the health of critical fisheries. There was no expectation or commitment expected from any guests since the discussion was geared to just open dialogue. This meeting lasted for two hours. I cannot cover all of the issues that were raised at this meeting, but I will give you a brief overview of this meeting.

Flawed Data – This is a major problem that needs fixing! We all know of many instances of data that is terribly wrong like we caught so many fluke just after Sandy struck even though many boats simply disappeared and littered our shorelines. From this flawed data, draconian quotas are applied to fluke, blackfish and other fisheries. These draconian quotas have devastating effects on our recreational fishing industry resulting in many for-hire fishing boats going out of business along with related industries like tackle shops. In essence, we are in a slow death spiral of this industry with 24% less recorded fishing trips in 2019.

What can be done to address this issue? It was mentioned that more funds should be allocated to improve data since only $11 million has been allocated by the federal government to improve data collection methods since 1980! Given the money the federal administration is spending on a variety of programs, this $11 million could be significantly increased to improve data collection. The Magnuson-Stevens Act restrains what actions fishing managers can take to improve our fishing industry. More flexibility with this legislation would be helpful to give more latitude to fishing management to ease restrictions on harmful quotas. In changing the Magnuson Stevens Act, we would need the help of our legislators like Congressman Pallone, our senators and other legislators.

Economic Impact – the Magnuson-Stevens Act stipulates that when new fishing regulations are proposed by fishing management, an economic impact statement must be included. What would be the impact of these new regulations on the recreational fishing industry like the for-hire fleet and tackle shops. I have seen many proposals for new fishing regulations, but I have not seen the economic impact statement that should accompany them.

New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council March 4th meeting on fluke regulations for 2021 - This meeting generated a lot of controversy since Council members decided to vote for an earlier fluke season (May 22nd to September 19th) even though the majority of anglers voted in a survey for the longer season (May 28th to September 28th). This created a no-win situation for the Marine Fisheries Council since the inshore fishing for fluke in the southern part of our state has fluke entering into its inshore bays and rivers earlier than in the northern part of our state. If the council votes for a later season, this adversely affects fluke fishing in the southern part of our state.

This issue always comes up in the Advisory meetings I attend to discuss fluke regulations for the coming year. Discussion to resolve this issue included a shorter size limit for fluke – perhaps to 17 ˝ inches or establishing boundaries to delineate where the southern section would begin in our state. Something needs to be done to resolve this issue since no matter how the NJ Marine Fisheries Council votes to establish a new fluke season, it will not satisfy angers who fish in the inshore waters of the southern part of our state or anglers in the north who prefer a longer fishing season.

Why can’t we be like Florida? – Rob Winkel visits Florida regularly and reported how much this state takes care of its salt water anglers with nice fishing ramps and other amenities. He pointed out that their bridges have locations on them for anglers to fish from. With the money coming into New Jersey from the Biden administration, perhaps some of this money can be dedicated to improve amenities in our state like Florida has for its anglers

Angler Registry issue – when it comes to distributing federal funding or having political clout during discussions with members of other states during fishing management meetings, our state is under represented since it only has about 250,000 registered anglers. Other states with lower populations than New Jersey have more registered anglers and receive more federal funding than ours. When it comes to political clout, New Jersey can claim it has only 250,000 anglers while other states can show it has much more than us even though we have a much larger population.

Dick Herb mentioned that when he talked to some anglers, they claim that they are registered, but are under the mistaken perception that they only need to register once with our state. Registration in New Jersey is required each year and it is free. The DEP representatives indicated that they will focus on an outreach program to get more anglers to register for our state. (By the way, to register for New Jersey go to this link on the NJ DEP website.)

Multi-Year regulations – Every year, we go through some type of drama about what our regulation should be for our fisheries. Perhaps we should have regulations for a two-year period instead of annually. This would be helpful for the for-hire fleet since they and their customers would know what the regulations would be to book their charters.

Staggered regulations – When one fishing season ends, another one should start shortly after it. All too often, we have gaps between fishing seasons and the for-hire fleet sits mostly idle until the next one begins. For example, this year’s fluke season ends on September 19th and the sea bass season starts on October 8 (18 days). Since the sea bass stocks are in great shape, why can’t the sea bass season start earlier so that there is not such a gap until October 8th? There are other ways to close this gap. But that is just one example.

Only one issue was off the table for discussion and that one is windmills. This issue is complex and would require an entire meeting, limiting discussion on other issues.

I want to THANK Ray Bukowski and his staff for meeting with us to have this sharing of information with us. Ray indicated that he intends to meet with other stakeholder groups also for their input.

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