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Opening the EEZ Would Be Bad News for Anglers

by J.B. Kasper

(Trenton Times, Sunday November 9th 2003)

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association December 2003 Newsletter)

I recently got a press release from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that stated: "NOAA Fisheries will hold a series of public meetings in the Atlantic coastal states to discuss its intent to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) to analyze the impacts of potential revisions to federal Atlantic striped bass regulations for the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

"NOAA Fisheries is considering a recommendation from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to implement regulations in the EEZ that, (1) remove the moratorium on the harvest of Atlantic striped bass in the EEZ; (2) implement a 28-inch minimum size limit for recreational and commercial Atlantic striped bass fisheries in the EEZ; and (3) allow states the ability to adopt more restrictive rules for fishermen and vessels licensed in their jurisdictions.

"All persons affected by or otherwise interested in Atlantic striped bass management in the EEZ are invited to participate in determining the scope and significance of issues to be analyzed in development of an EIS by participating in one or more of the scheduled scoping hearings."

This same nonsense was tried in 1996 and brought an overwhelmingly negative response from sportsmen. I remember those public hearings very well, as I was at all three of them. The first one was shut down by the fire marshal because over 700 sportsmen showed up in Toms River at a meeting place that was only meant to hold 125 people. The fact that the majority of the people who showed up were sportsmen vs. only a handful of commercial fishermen, which almost turned into a riot, forced the powers that be to reschedule two more public hearings, one in Toms River and the other in Long Branch.

At the two scheduled hearings in Ocean County, over 500 anglers showed up at each meeting, and the hearing in Long Branch had over 900 people show up to voice their opposition. The outcome was that the attempt to open the EEZ was stopped, and that is exactly what has to be done this time.

I spoke with Tom Fote of Jersey Coast Anglers Association, which has opposed the opening of the EEZ since 1995, and he mentioned several good points. The first is that there is the potential of greatly increasing the catch and especially the bycatch (the catching of one type of fish while fishing for another). Every time a new directed fishery happens more bycatch takes place, not less.

Another thing that Fote mentioned, and a question that I have raised, is that it's interesting that NMFS is considering opening the EEZ at the same time it voted to restrict the recreational catch in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware under Amendment 6 of the Striped Bass Management Plan, but NMFS did vote to increase the commercial fishery. Amendment 6 has not even been fully implemented and we do not know what effect this will have on the overall striped bass mortality. Fote said, "We know if cutbacks have to be made in 2004 or 2005 it will come from the recreational sector and not the commercial sector." To that I say why even open up the EEZ in the first place?

The answer to that question is simple, especially in New Jersey's case. Since there is no commercial fishing in New Jersey, because striped bass are a recreational fish, if the bass become depleted because of the opening of the EEZ the recreational fishermen will have to pay the price. Should commercial boats from out of state be able to fish in the EEZ off the Jersey coast and land their fish elsewhere that is sure to deplete the striped bass population in Jersey waters. Who will pay? The recreational fishermen, of course. The opening of the EEZ is a no-win situation for the recreational fishermen no matter who is allowed to fish there.

Sportsmen need to take a good look at what the striped bass meant to the fishing in Jersey waters this year. Weakfishing simply did not happen this year. Fluke fishing was spotty at best. And commercial fishermen are directly to blame. We can't allow commercial fishing interests to deplete the striped bass fishery, which has been one of the bright spots along the coast for saltwater fishermen. Especially since it took so long to bring it back from being decimated by commercial fishermen a couple decades back.

Recreational fishing organizations are urging all anglers who want to stop the opening up of the EEZ to attend the public hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 18, in Toms River. It starts at 6 p.m., at the Quality Inn at 815 Route 37. NOTE: You can reach us with your fishing or hunting reports, comments or questions by fax at (215) 295-0902; by e-mail at jb.kasper@verizon.net or jbkasper@hotmail.com; or by mail at J.B. Kasper c/o The Times, 500 Perry St., Trenton, NJ 08605.

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