NJOA: Reef bill passes assembly committee, anglers cautious
March 9, 2012
Bill A2645, Prohibits the use of certain fishing gear at artificial reef sites, passed the Agriculture and Natural resources Committee by a vote of 3 in favor and 2 abstentions. There is one sponsor of the bill, Committee Chair, Assemblyman Nelson Albano. There is no senate companion bill at this time but one is expected to be sponsored by Senator Van Drew and released in the near future.
Anthony P. Mauro, Sr, Chair of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance organizations stated, "The 23 council organizations of the NJOACF thank the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee for addressing the issue of removing fixed gear from the artificial reefs. In years past, several traps off the reef bills have not been taken up by the committee and we welcome the opportunity for dialogue and progress. The traps must come off the reefs."
Mauro continued, "However, there are a number of questions that remain unanswered by bill A2645, and could not be squarely addressed by the sponsor. Primarily, A2645 has not been reviewed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service for a determination as to whether funding would be restored to the New Jersey Reef Program. Since the bill allocates a percentage of the reefs to commercial fixed gear, and since the reason feds pulled funding was because of commercial gear conflicts, this issue must be reconciled in any bill before we can take a position on it. It is essential that federal funding be restored to the Reef Program."
Pete Grimbilas, President, NJOACF stated, "Bill A2645 was provided to the public with less than 24 hours before it was to be heard by the Committee. No one has had adequate time to review the specifics of the bill. In fact, we found contradictory information in the bill as to the reef coordinates that designate areas for commercial potting. The bill also does not address enforcement concerns and this is a must if a percentage of the reefs will be used by commercial industry. Since the DEP also received the bill with less than 24 hours until the committee hearing, they haven't had a chance to review it to see if it is workable or whether it will restore federal funding."
A number of NJOACF council members and various fishing club representatives provided testimony. Many testified that there was no time given to review the bill and that it should be withheld until a proper review can take place by their memberships. Some opposed any compromise that would include commercial gear sectors on the reefs, since reefs are built and maintained solely by monies paid by recreational anglers through excise taxes and private donations.
A representative of the commercial industry testified in support of the bill and asked that recreational and commercial fishermen support the bill and move past the reef dispute and begin to focus on major issues affecting the entire fishing community.
Committee Chair, Assemblyman Albano, assured the stakeholders that the coordinate discrepancies would be addressed in the senate version. Regarding the restoration of federal funding he said, "I will make sure, and you have my word, that this has to be done in a way that the federal funding is restored."
Currently, alternate bill A1343, with primary sponsors Assemblyman Rible and Assemblywoman Angelini, that also prohibits the use of certain fishing gear on artificial reef sites has 44 sponsors. This bill has not been heard by the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee but last month the senate companion bill S1177 passed the Senate Environment and Energy Committee 4 in favor 1 opposed.
NJOACF will keep its members and the public informed of progress and developments regarding the removal of fixed gear from the artificial reefs and the status of all legislation relevant to the issue.