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Time to Get Involved in Ocean Planning Processes

by Ken Warchal, Asbury Park Press, 8/21/2017
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association October 2017 Newsletter)

For many people, replacing sand on a beach hardly seems connected to catching fish in the water. Along New Jerseyís shoreline our towns need to replenish sand to keep our public beaches for recreational enjoyment and ensure that we have strong dunes to protect our coastal communities. But as residents and tourists dig their toes into the soft Jersey shore sand, few realize that the Army Corps of Engineers handpicks sand from specific locations due to its unique quality. The agency often removes sand from ocean bottom lumps that provide marine habitat for ocean critters and prime fishing spots. When the Corps removes these lumps, the fishing spots go away.

Recently, Iíve been having many conversations with fellow Jersey Coast Anglers Association fishermen and fisherwomen because we share a concern about a particular location Ė Manasquan Ridge Ė where a lot of the beach sand will come from in the near future. The Ridge means a lot to those of us who catch summer and winter flounder, bluefish, and false albacore in those waters.

These concerns date back to 2012 when similar projects began happening in Harvey Cedar lumps. Without prior communication with the recreational fishing community, the Army Corps of Engineers removed a sizable amount of sand from this area. Not too soon after, charter and party boats that normally would be taking fishing passengers out were now sitting at the dock. After all, no one wants to pay for a day of fishing when there are no fish to catch.

These fishing areas have been our go-to spots for generations. But itís not just an issue for recreational anglers. With the economic impact the recreation fishing industry has on New Jerseyís economy Ė including supporting restaurants, hotels, tackle shops and boat repairs Ė the impact of destroying fishing grounds has a ripple effect on all of us.

The good news is that with the introduction of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Action Plan in late 2016, we now have a process to engage and inform all people who could be negatively impacted by a decision like this one. The Corpsí lack of coordination and communication was the biggest problem with the previous sand mining projects. However, with the Manasquan Ridge project, the Army Corps, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Department of Environmental Protection have utilized the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Action Plan to take real steps toward better communication and greater engagement with our recreational fishing community.

With our input and by using various interactive maps available on the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Action Planís data portal, the Corps has now recognized the importance of the area for fish. Recreational and commercial fishermen prefer that the Corps take no sand from this area. Thatís why we spoke to BOEM during a meeting this past week about ways to shift away from sand mining in Manasquan Ridge completely. By having BOEM invite us and listen to our request, we feel better informed Ö and heard.

The difference between these two sand mining efforts is clear. But itís more than that. This engagement is critical to our long-term success. The Mid-Atlantic Ocean Action Plan is already helping us share information and coordinate more effectively to help us avoid negative consequences like those we saw in the past.

And this collaboration is also sparking more creative ideas. The fishing community has been recommending ways to maintain some bottom structure for ocean wildlife, such as removing sand in rows instead of clear-cutting the lump or creating artificial structures with clamshells or similar material.

Iíve seen firsthand how knowledge sharing and proactive ocean planning will greatly improve the execution of the Manasquan Ridge project. Sand mining is moving forward, but with greater input and coordination among all of us who rely on this piece of the New Jersey coastline, Iím more confident we wonít unnecessarily sacrifice our fishing spots to replenish our beaches.

Itís no question to me that we must continue encouraging our members of Congress to support ocean planning processes with resources and funding they need to move forward. New Jersey has a solution that works. Letís put the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Action Plan to good use.

Ken Warchal is vice president of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, and co-founder of the Ocean Reef Foundation of New Jersey. He is also a trustee of the Manasquan River Marlin and Tuna Club.

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