FISHERIES MANAGEMENT & LEGISLATIVE REPORT
by Tom Fote
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association April 2000 Newsletter)
Leahy Bill Aimed At Mercury Levels In Fish (Ken MaGuire - The Associated Press Washington)
Frank Richettis article discusses how the NJ Marine Fisheries Council screwed up the Menhaden regulations on reduction votes. I have one bit of information to add. Dr. Robert Able cast the deciding vote on the Menhaden regulations. He is responsible for vetoing the regulations that we wanted. When I questioned his vote, he responded that he didnt understand the regulations and was confused. I was justifiably furious. We have been discussing this issue for more than 15 years. Dr. Able has been present for many discussions about this issue. For him to suggest that he didnt understand and was confused is ridiculous. JCAA sent him considerable material during the last five years. If he is unable to understand an issue that is so clear and with so much history before the council, he should resign and let someone who is capable of understanding and voting with intelligence take his place. If his statement to me was incorrect and he did not vote out of ignorance, then I think it is appropriate for us to question his motives. Remember, Dr. Robert Able is a member at large. And we know how the public at large feels about this. He cant have it both ways. Either he is too ignorant on the issues to serve on the council or he is incapable of representing the public at large. He might also want to rethink his ignorance about the glass eel issue. He was one of the loudest voices supporting the opening of the glass eel fishery. He clearly has a history of ignoring the public or the resource needs in favor of the commercial needs. Please write Governor Donald DiFrancesco and ask him to demand Dr. Ables immediate resignation.
I received an email from someone on my email list that did not agree with the JCAAs positions on conservation zones and our opposition to a three fish bag limit on summer flounder. I went into more detail about the conservation zones in this newsletter. Once any sportsperson understands the implications of these proposals they come to agree with JCAAs position.
My concern is the question I am often asked by other anglers, Why does anyone need more than three fish? In response to the recent email I would reply as follows. JCAA tries to represent and protect all the anglers in NJ. I believe in the same philosophy as your dad, NEVERTAKE MORE THAN YOU CAN EAT, and so do most of the anglers that I meet. . Some of them might have different needs than you and I. They might have a big family or want to put fish in the freezer since they only get out once a month because of work and other commitments. I remember one guy complaining about the fact that someone on a party boat can keep two striped bass in NY and he felt that they should be keeping one because that is all he ever kept. The guy complaining fished five days a week and caught lots of stripers. This guy on the party boat might have been making his only trip of the year, month or week. The person complaining killed many times more fish through hook and release mortality than the person keeping two fish on his party boat trip. I know how many times the guy complaining fished but I can only guess how often the party boat guy did. In the end the person that was complaining and said he was conserving the fish killed many more times the number of fish than the guy fishing the party boat. I also find a lot of people who say we should only practice catch and release and then I later find out they dont even eat many kinds of fish.
The bottom line is neither one of those guys is the reason the stocks are having problems. I do not think so. It is the illegal commercial and recreational harvest. By some estimates the unreported commercial landings are at least double the reported landings. There are huge bycatches and discards of striped bass and many other fisheries problems that we are not addressing. All you have to see is the hundreds of striped bass that float up on the beach when the commercial netters are netting shad or bluefish.
I have learned that I should put myself in the other anglers shoes before I make generalizations about who needs what. There is probably no way to distribute the fish available to everyones satisfaction. Remember, statistics show that summer flounder fishermen take home only one fish for every three trips. I find it hard to believe that we are overfishing when we are taking so little home. We need to get on the same side and stop squabbling among ourselves.
BY KEN MAGUIRE The Associated Press WASHINGTON
The federal government would toughen seafood safety regulations under legislation introduced Thursday by Sen. Patrick Leahy, who said the current acceptable level of mercury in fish causes neurological problems in newborns.
The proposal, which an industry executive said would be "vigorously challenged," directs the Food and Drug Administration to resume mercury testing. Some women of childbearing age are at risk of giving birth to children with neurological problems under current mercury regulations, Leahy said.
"There are no more excuses for delay," he said. "We know the dangers of mercury and the public has a right to know that the seafood they buy for their families is mercury-safe."
Fish are safe to eat, the FDA says, if they contain less than 1 part per million of methylmercury, the form of mercury found in fish. Mercury is a natural element and is caused by pollution.
The Mercury-Safe Seafood Act would require the FDA to adopt a "tolerance level" based on current scientific findings, which would prohibit fish that contain what is deemed an unacceptable level of mercury from being sold in the marketplace.
The bill, cosponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, points to Environmental Protection Agency mercury guidelines that are five times tougher than the FDA standard.
It also calls for the resumption of mercury testing of domestically caught seafood, a practice the FDA halted in 1998. It proposes $3 million annually for 10 years for FDA testing and public education efforts.
The bill cites a Centers for Disease Control report that found 10 percent of women of childbearing age who eat fish are at risk of giving birth to children with neurological problems.
The FDA in January issued an advisory to women of childbearing age warning against eating king mackerel, tilefish, shark, and swordfish. Levels of mercury in those fish can damage an unborn baby's brain, it said. Several states have offered similar advice and include tuna on the list.
An FDA report on mercury levels in fish is due to be released this spring. FDA officials refused to comment on the Harkin-Leahy proposal, but one industry executive said no changes should be made until results of the FDA study are made public.
"It's much more appropriate to wait for the science to come in. It's a matter of two or three months," said Richard Gutting, president of National Fisheries Institute, which represents the fish and seafood industry. "I think it's premature. Scientific findings to date are very conflicting."
The lower the tolerance level goes, "more and more food is taken off the market," Gutting said, adding that it's too early to estimate potential financial losses. He predicted the measure would be "vigorously challenged" if pushed through before results of the FDA study are released.
Eliminating mercury from fish could take between 15 and 50 years even with improved standards, Mercury Policy Project Executive Director Michael Bender said. Mercury gets in fish through pollution that seeps into the water.
"We really need to start doing a good job of warning the public and pregnant women and children about the dangers," he said.
A similar bill failed in the House last year. Bender said he's optimistic, however, because Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and EPA Secretary Christie Whitman supported efforts to reduce mercury emissions when they were governors of Wisconsin and New Jersey, respectively.
The FDA's policy is to withhold comment on proposals until they become law, a spokeswoman said.
The summer flounder issue is still not resolved. At printing time the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission had not released the new tables for this years fishery. Until they do, we have no additional information. New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council voted to go with eight fish at 15 ½ inches with a season from May 5th to October 1st. This will be changed once the new tables are available.
Subject: Marine Conservation Zones off Island Beach State Park
Tidelands Commission Testimony
Jersey Coast Anglers Association and the New Jersey State Federation of Sportsmens Clubs are not convinced that we need special conservation zones around Island Beach State Park. We feel that proper law enforcement of the existing rules and regulations would go a long way in solving the identified problems. It should be clear that we are not in support of these zones or any of the current proposals to write these zones into regulations.
Having made our objection clear, we do understand that there is a great deal of pressure on the Tidelands Commission to implement these conservation zones. If this becomes a reality we demand that you give the authority to veto any changes other than the Jet Ski rules to the NJ Marine Fisheries Council and the NJ Fish and Game Council. We have been told that Fish and Wildlife and Division of Parks and Forestry would have to consent to any changes before DEP would take any action. This is not acceptable. Both of these agencies function under the direction of the DEP and the commissioner is their boss. They can hardly be impartial. The only way we will accept any conservation zones is if the NJ Marine Fisheries Council and the NJ Fish and Game Council can represent the interests of the hunters, commercial fishermen and anglers by exercising a veto if necessary.
There are two important issues to consider. First, we have experience with marine protected areas throughout the country. Our experience is that bureaucrats will change how rules are implemented based on their own personal feelings rather than on science. The second issue is that this conservation zone project is being touted as a pilot project for other areas in the state. This scares the hell out of us. We cannot allow this conservation zone to supercede the existing process for changing rules and regulations, which requires the use of the best existing science. We could wind up with little fiefdoms throughout the state, run at the whim of bureaucrats and special interest groups.
The NJ Marine Fisheries Council and the NJ Fish and Game Council are made up of private citizens who are hunters, anglers and commercial fishermen. They are accustomed to dealing fairly and equitably with a variety of issues and agencies. Their mandate is to make decisions based on the best available science, not the whims of bureaucrats, politicians or special interest groups. We trust them to make decisions that will protect the resource and treat the user groups fairly. The conservation zones will not work unless the public has some trust in the process.
Thomas P. Fote
Legislative Chairman JCAA & NJSFSC
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