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Geiser - Traps Off Reefs

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New state regulation to keep traps off reefs

BY John Geiser • STAFF COLUMNIST • July 12, 2008

There is more than one way to get commercial fish traps off the state's artificial reefs.

The will of the people has been thwarted in the state Legislature by two key Democratic lawmakers for nearly two years; so people are looking elsewhere for relief.

The state Division of Fish and Wildlife announced at Thursday's state Marine Fisheries Council meeting that it will provide it through a regulation to prohibit traps on the reefs.

Members of the Corzine administration as well as lawmakers from both houses of the Legislature recognize that it is neither right nor fair that anglers and scuba divers be denied access to artificial reefs built with recreational money.

Further, much of that money comes from a federal excise tax on fishing tackle. The law creating the tax specifically prohibits the use of that money for aiding and supporting the commercial industry.

The removal of the web of commercial gear that monopolizes the reefs will not come quickly. In fact, it will probably take months, and the process cannot begin until the state Marine Fisheries Council makeup changes.

Despite the fact that only a comparative handful of commercial fishermen actually set their gear on the reefs, the commercial industry adroitly used the political system to deny the majority access to the reefs.

Their first line of defense was the Marine Fisheries Council. It is theoretically made up of five commercial fishermen, four recreational fishermen and two members of the public at large. When the two public seats remained unfilled, the commercial sector won every vote, 5-4.

Anglers and divers patiently exhausted every avenue of appeal to logic and fairness in the council process, but were either outright rebuffed or mired in committee hearings and parliamentary maneuvers.

Frustrated and angered by the growing mass of traps, pot lines, flags and ghost gear on the reefs and the games commercial fishermen played on the council, recreational activists turned to the state Division of Fish and Wildlife and the state Legislature.

The division proposed a compromise … six months of use by the commercial sector and six months by the recreational sector. The state Legislature responded by introducing bills prohibiting the commercial gear on the reefs, and quickly pushed the legislation through committees, and received enormous bipartisan support before the two legislators prevented passage.

The division compromise was actually acceptable to neither the recreational nor commercial sides, but commercial fishermen, emboldened by assurance from the two legislators that the measure would never be brought to a vote, demanded more, including keeping lobster pots on the artificial reefs 12 months a year.

Finally, the state Department of Environmental Protection, fed up with the attitude of commercial fishermen, and seeing public interest in donating money and effort to reef building dwindling, as well as the possible illegal use of federal funds, decided to act through regulation.

Dr. Patrick Donnelly, a member of the state Marine Fisheries Council and as patient a man who ever sat through 30 meetings on the subject and listened to the arguments on both sides, said he was pleased to see the division take a stand.

"This is finally going in the right direction,'' he said. "There is no room for compromise any longer. This will be a total ban done through the administrative process.''

Donnelly explained that when the two newly appointed members representing the public at large soon take their seats on the council, the commercial lock on votes will no longer be a sure thing.

The council has the power to veto division regulations, but Donnelly believes the regulations will stand by a 6-5 vote.

"There is so much that went into this,'' he said. "All of the work by Reef Rescue, the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, the Recreational Fishing Alliance, the Jersey Coast Anglers Association and the thousands of people who wrote letters, sent e-mails and made phone calls has finally paid off.''

Donnelly said the most encouraging aspect of the matter is the division's position.

"They listened to all sides, weighed the information and stepped up to the plate,'' he said. "They did the right thing. This is something that recreational fishing needed to help reverse all of the negative things going on.''

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Assume that this all ocurred in New Jersey ??????

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Assume that this all ocurred in New Jersey ??????

The complications with fixed gear is occuring in state and federal waters. The DFW has control over the reefs in NJ waters.


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