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Comments on Groundfish Amendment 13

10/12/03 Jack Fullmer
Legislative Committee NJCDC

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association December 2003 Newsletter)

The New Jersey Council of Diving Clubs is an organization of 21 sport diving clubs in New Jersey with some clubs in other nearby states.  In this area most of our diving is done in federal waters, and sport divers do occasionally take Cod and other groundfish.   What really concerns us is that some of your proposals in Amendment 13 are not limited to groundfish, and could directly impact the sport diving fishery and other recreational fisheries.  Proposals for recreational fishing permits, large no-take fishing zones, and apparent attempts to force closure of State waters via federal fishing permits could have profound implications to the sport diving community and all recreational fisheries. 

Regarding the proposed Recreational Fishing Permit found at 3.4.8, the NJCDC supports Option 1, No Action.  A recreational vessel is not required to obtain a permit.  Requiring recreational vessels to follow commercial permitting requirements is detrimental to the informal nature of the recreational fishery.  Most private recreational boats may only take a few cod or winter flounder on a trip, if that.  Most recreational vessels only leave the dock on weekends, and don’t go very far.  To require a permit for that does not make sense. Recreational fisheries have been traditionally controlled through bag, size, and seasonal limits, and no further controls are necessary.  Furthermore, most winter flounder taken by recreational fishermen in this area are taken in state waters, not in federal.  The recreational catch of Groundfish averaged only 14.6 % (II – 1298), and only 3.1% (II –1298) for the Mid-Atlantic angler.  That does not warrant a recreational fishing permit

The NJCDC also opposes a recreational permit for groundfish because what you do for one fish, you could implement for others.  Sport divers do not want to see recreational boat permits for every federal regulated species.  We do not want to see limited entry and other commercial concepts being forced on an informal recreational fishery, and a permit is the first step to that sort of nonsense.  Finally, we oppose a recreational permit because of what I was told by staff of the NEFMC.  I was told that the recreational permit requirement could be used to close designated state waters by making it a requirement of the permit, and this will be discussed later in my testimony.

Although the NJCDC believes in protecting sensitive habitat from over-fishing, destructive commercial fishing methods, and massive and destructive government projects such as sand replenishment projects, our clubs do not believe in any Level 1 habitat closure in the ocean.  Since the proposed habitat areas are so huge, such a closure would shut down whole traditional fishing areas and cause a catastrophic impact on any fishing community (recreational or commercial) based opposite those areas.  It would also cause any remaining habitat outside the MPA to be severely over fished.

A proposed Level 1 area closure (total closure to fishing - one of the options) off the northern New Jersey shoreline shown in habitat Alternative 5A and 5C  (3.7.6 as depicted on the maps on pages I-189 & I-191) encompasses 814 square miles directly in front of a major metropolitan area. It would virtually shut down a commercial fishery out of Raritan Bay and Shark River.  It would close to any fishing the only natural hard habitat area that New Jersey has in its waters (the Shrewsbury Rocks and the Long Branch Rocks – historic and traditional fishing areas) and destroy a billion dollar recreational fishery out of New York, Sandy Hook, and Shark River Inlet. It would also close the Sandy Hook artificial reef that fishermen and divers paid to build, and close to fishing many shipwrecks that have been fished for over 50 years.

It is literally insane to propose an 814 square mile no-take habitat zone in front of the most densely populated metropolitan area on the east coast.  Recreational fishermen generally do not travel great distances, and such a no-take zone would shut down the recreational fishery out of New York, Raritan Bay, and Shark River.  This no-take zone would also violate the directive of the Magnuson-Stevens Act to minimize adverse economic impacts on fishing communities.

If the federal government wants to protect so called EFH located off the northern New Jersey shoreline as depicted in Alternative 5A and 5C, please explain to me why agencies of this same  government are dumping mud over a 9 square mile area (the HARS and Mud Dump) within that same area saying that it is so toxic that they must cover it up.  By what perverted logic is this area now considered to be EFH if its so toxic it has to be covered?  That same mud of this HARS (really an expanded mud dump) is covering hard habitat that is being actively fished by both lobstermen and recreational fishermen, and killing all marine life it falls on.

Furthermore, in this same so called EFH area, but nearer to shore, is Borrow Area BA 88 & BA 89 for the massive Sandy Hook to Barnegat Inlet Beach Replenishment Project.  This borrow area covers about 4 square miles of bottom off Sea Bright and is denuding the bottom of sand to a depth of 20 feet below the original bottom.  It is also killing all marine life in the area.  Some of the 7 Belmar Borrow areas may also be within your designated EFH, and constitute another 3 square miles of denuded EFH.  This same sand replenishment project has buried 8 shipwrecks near the beach and pulverized two wrecks near Belmar Borrow Area 6.  It seems that your Non-Fishing Related Activities that may Adversely Affect EFH found in Volume Two, 9.3.1.10 has been poorly researched, and is ignoring massive non-fishing causes for the destruction of habitat.

My observation is that if NEFMC habitat committee considers the area found off the north Jersey coast to be EFH, apparently no one else does!  Especially not the other federal agencies responsible for these projects who testified that there was no adverse effect to fisheries.

Furthermore, I dive the area of the Long Branch and Shrewsbury Rocks all the time and have never seen Juvenile or Adult  Cod or Haddock on it. I’ve only seen Cod in late fall and winter on the deeper wrecks, and then only on rare occasions. If the shallower area covered by the Habitat Alternative 5A and 5C off northern NJ is important to Cod and Haddock, its news to me because I have not seen them there. Winter Flounder is fished for primarily in the bays.  Although the Long Branch and Shrewsbury Rocks may be important hard habitat for other fish, I don’t think its important for cod and I question the findings of your habitat committee.

At the Toms River hearing, I asked a NEFMC staff person “why did the EFH maps appear to cover state waters all the way to the beach.”  He asked to get back to me because he didn’t know the answer. Later on I E mailed him and specifically asked him “Could NEFMC require a recreational permit, and then legally say you have to abide by the conditions of the federal permit, one of which is not to fish in state waters as shown in Habitat Alternative 5A & 5C.”    

About 4 days later he got back to me and stated that “The habitat areas are intended to extend into state waters.”   They would apply to recreational vessels if permits are adopted for those vessels, and the habitat level selected restricted recreational vessels.  It is one thing to ask a federally permitted vessel, commercial or recreational, to abide by the more restrictive of a size limits in both state and federal waters.  It is quite another thing to try to specifically close designated state waters to fishing by use of a federal permit requirement.  State waters are under the jurisdiction of the individual states, its citizens, and the ASMFC.   It is exceeding the authority of the NEFMC and a violation of states rights to try to close areas of State waters in this manner.  It is not only wrong, but its doubly wrong because the NEFMC never mentioned to the affected states their intention to use federal recreational permits to close state waters!   Discussions with New Jersey marine fisheries officials indicated they were never informed, and had serious

concerns about this misuse of federal authority.  I really don’t know what implication this has to states that are presently passing Freedom to Fish Laws.

            The attempt to indirectly close state waters is deceptive and is never explained in the plan!  It is also misleading to the public to present a fishery plan as a federal groundfish amendment, which any logical person would think only pertains to groundfish and federal waters, and then propose total closure of large chunks of ocean to all fishing in both state and federal waters without even saying in the title page that the plan contains habitat proposals that could impact all fisheries and close large sections of both federal and state waters.  That sort of extreme and drastic proposal at least warrants a warning mentioned in the Title page.

Although the NJCDC supports the concept of  Alternative 8 (Restrictions on the use of Rockhopper and/or Roller Gear and would support some restrictions on clam and scallop dredges near hard habitat,  we are forced to support the No Action alternative (No additional habitat –related management measures).   It is clear that some of the Habitat Areas depicted in Alternative 5A, 5B, 5C, and 5D have not been well thought out, are in bad places, are way too large for being that close to shore, and some violate states rights.  Any proposal by the NEFMC for habitat areas should stop at the 3 mile limit.  I do not know to what extent the NEFMC is being forced to make imprudent proposals based on some of these court cases.

Apparently the habitat proposals were not done at all carefully.  For example, I couldn’t determine where the proposed habitat maps off the coast of New Jersey in Habitat Alternative 5A and 5C on page 71 and 72 of the Public Hearing Document intersected the Jersey shoreline. I went to your 900 page Volume I document (pages I-189 and I-191) to secure the actual coordinates.  When I plotted out the coordinates on a chart, I found that the NEFMC was proposing a marine habitat area that included most of the dry land in Monmouth County, New Jersey.  It appears that instead of proceeding East from Longitude Coordinates 74 deg and 0 minutes, you proceeded west.  Most if not all the coordinates for Habitat Alternative 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D are wrong.  And they are also wrong in your scallop proposal and wrong in your original EFH proposal.  I respectfully request you reissue these proposals and ask for comment on all issues based on the correct coordinates because the public did not know the correct coordinates for these areas and could not have commented properly.

 

Sincerely

Jack Fullmer

Legislative Committee NJCDC

Jf2983182@aol.com

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