Coalition of Recreational Organizations Sue NMFS to Block Implementation of Unfair Yellowfin Tuna and Shark Plan for East Coast and Gulf of Mexico

A coalition of recreational fishing organizations and industries filed a suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service. The organizations listed as plaintiffs are the National Fishing Association and its executive director, Phil Kozak; the Recreational Fishing Alliance; Jersey Coast Anglers Association; the United Boatmen of New Jersey and New York;Captain Gordon Roman, owner of the Captree Queen of Long Island;Hoffman’s Marina, Brielle; Captain Paul Forsberg, Viking Fishing Fleet; the Confederation of the Association of Atlantic Charter Boats and Captains; and the Reel Seat, Brielle. This suit was filed to prevent NMFS from implementing the regulations on shark and yellowfin tuna that would take effect on July 1, 1999.

The arrogance of the National Marine Fisheries Service and their refusal to correct the inequities in the plan left this coalition no choice but to move ahead with the lawsuit. The JCAA webpage and newspaper contain information about the problems inherent in the plan. This coalition is not against conservation. We are simply opposed to regulations that are not fair and equitable under the Magnuson Act. We are tired of the NMFS ignoring federal regulations and making plans that unfairly impact the recreational fishing community. You need look any further than the shark regulations in this plan. JCAA and many other groups have asked for a 6-foot minimum size on Mako sharks for both commercial and recreational anglers for over 13 years. We have consistently been ignored. The only size regulations NMFS understands for Mako sharks are on the recreational sector. We have also asked for a species specific plan for Mako sharks since the 70’s. NMFS has enough information to develop a species specific plan but appears to have no interest in doing so. We asked for a 2 fish bag limit expecting similar cuts on the commercial side. Again, we got the 2 fish bag limit for the recreational sector with no concurrent reduction for the commercial sector. The current plan would reduce the recreational catch by an additional 50% with not reduction on the commercial catch.

New Jersey has taken a leadership role with support from some groups in New York. I find it disturbing that other national and state groups have been silent on this plan. It is difficult to meet with federal regulators and have them tell me that they are only hearing from New Jersey. This plan impacts on the entire East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. More importantly, this plan reconfirms that NMFS is totally out of control. The entire recreational community from across the United States needs to get on board. Even if you don’t fish for yellowfin tuna or mako shark, the fish you want to catch could be next. I can only hope other groups have not joined us because they simply haven’t had the time to read the 5 inch thick document and understand all the nuances of the plan. Truthfully, I doubt the people who wrote it have actually read the whole thing. I’m sure they don’t understand it because the representatives from NMFS at the highest levels that I have spoken to are unable to answer my simple questions.

On Friday I was notified that Governor Whitman has decided not to file suit for New Jersey at this time. Her staff continues to attempt to work with Department of Commerce to modify these regulations. They have not received support from other states in trying to overturn these regulations. Governor Whitman needs to hear from everyone in New Jersey and, hopefully, she will take the necessary steps to join us in this lawsuit. The NJ Assembly and Senate are working on resolutions supporting the lawsuit. Eight members of New Jersey’s Congressional Delegation have already sent Governor Whitman a letter urging her to sue NMFS. In the past, suits against NMFS by states have always been to protect commercial interests. It is surely time for all of our governors to take action to protect the recreational community and the businesses and industries that depend on a healthy recreational fishery. If you live or work in state other than New Jersey, contact your governor as well. In this instance, more is decidedly better.

Since this coalition was able to act in a timely manner, other groups, organizations and states have the opportunity to sign on as an intervener. In addition, each of us has the opportunity to contribute to the legal defense fund and I am urging each of you to do so, both as an individual and as an organization. This is going to be expensive. NMFS has dug in its heels and federal lawsuits are time consuming and expensive. The Recreational Fishing Alliance has set up a separate fund for this lawsuit. You can mail your contribution to the Recreational Fishing Alliance, P.O. Box 308, New Gretna, NJ 08224. Call 609-294-3315 to find out how to become an intervener or make a contribution.

A special thanks is due to Phil Kozak for his work in securing Connors and Farrell as the law firm and for getting the fund raising ball rolling.

Release For Tomorrow

Tom Fote