Give Us Back Our Reefs!

Give Us Back Our Reefs!
By Anthony P Mauro, Sr (c) 2011

Conservation Corner w/ Anthony P. Mauro, Sr
Conservation Corner w/ Anthony P. Mauro, Sr

USA –-( Why You Should Get Involved in the Fight for Access to Our Ocean Artificial Reefs and What You Can Do to Help.

Q. Why should I be concerned about having access to ocean artificial reefs?

A.As with public parks, ocean reefs are open to everyone as long as they use the type of gear for which the reefs were designed; hook and line, and spear (DEP Reef Plan). During the past 20 years commercial fisherman have put their lobster and fish traps (commercial gear) on these reefs to the point where the public (recreational and commercial anglers) are restricted from accessing the reefs.

It’s no different than a company setting up a business on a public park and profiting from using the publicly funded location, while restricting access to a public that has paid for the park for the purpose of recreation. The issue is a clear violation of the intended use of a public trust.

Q. How do recreational anglers pay for the artificial reefs?

A. Beginning in 1989, the administration of the state’s Reef Program has been paid for with funds from the Federal Sport Fish Restoration Act. These funds are derived from excise taxes on recreational fishing and diving equipment. These monies are returned to state natural resource agencies ( NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife) for specific purposes, such as artificial reef management, that directly benefit recreational fishermen and divers. It is a users pay, users benefit program. Also, numerous fishing and diving clubs have donated millions of dollars to assist in the construction of artificial reefs over the past 25 years.

Q. What are “lobster and fish traps?”

A. Lobster and fish traps are 4-foot long boxes made of plastic-coated wire. Traps are attached to long ropes stretched across the sea floor. A typical trap line is 1500 feet long, with 2 dozen traps attached. Sometimes, the ends of the trap line are marked with surface flags. Once set, trap lines are left on a fishing spot for months at a time.

Traps have net funnels that prevent fish and lobster from escaping. Lobster traps are baited, fish traps are not. Compared to hook and line, traps are highly-efficient gear, capable of catching 24 hours a day, day after day, throughout the entire fishing season.

Q. How does fixed commercial gear (traps) present a problem for recreational anglers and divers?

A. The thousands of feet of trap lines and hundreds of traps stretched across every reef site act to snag anglers’ rigs, anchors, and even immobilize boats when trap buoy lines wrap around propellers. This is costly to recreational anglers and can also be dangerous. A DEP survey in 2009 found that 57 percent of anglers stated there was too much commercial trap gear on reefs. Many anglers stop fishing on the reefs when there is too much trap gear.

Q. Does the gear conflict created by too many traps on reefs jeopardize federal funding of the state’s Reef Program?

A. Yes. Restricting access of anglers and divers to reefs built with Federal Sport Fish Restoration funds violates federal funding regulations. Failure to eliminate the gear conflict created by traps can result in the loss of federal funding for the Reef Program.

Q. Have other states encountered this problem? If so, what have they done?

A. The gear conflict between trap gear and hook and line anglers and divers is by no means unique to NJ reefs; it has been a common problem along many states with shorelines. However, states such as; Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia and New York have protected public use of artificial reefs off their coasts by limiting fishing gear on artificial reefs by to hook and line, and spear. Delaware is in the process of doing the same. Hook and line gear can be used by either recreational or commercial fishermen.

Q. Who is blocking the current legislative Assembly bill A-1152 that would resolve the trap gear conflict issue?

A. Approximately 20 commercial trappers are setting thousands of traps on NJ artificial reefs and restricting access to the approximately 800,000 recreational anglers who have paid for the reefs. Many of the commercial interests using traps on the reefs operate out of Cape May, New Jersey.

Our research has shown that in the last few years there have been campaign contributions in excess of $40,000 to legislators in District 1 (includes; Cape May, Atlantic and Cumberland counties) from the commercial fishing industry (located in Cape May County), the commercial fishing industry’s lobbying group, and also the food industry. This figure does NOT include indirect contributions, which consists of various fundraising activities.

For four years the NJOA and ReefRescue have tried to have legislation heard that would allow New Jersey to comply with the Federal Sports Fish Restoration Act and provide anglers and divers with unrestricted access to the reefs. The legislation has been blocked (in the Assembly) by parliamentary procedures initiated specifically by legislators in District 1.

Over the years, the actions of District 1 legislators in preventing legislation to be heard have continued to put in jeopardy the Federal funding New Jersey receives for administration of the artificial reef program, while allowing 20 commercial trappers to restrict the access of 800,000 recreational anglers to the artificial reefs. Remember, these 800,000 anglers have paid for the reefs and not the commercial trappers.

Q. I’ve heard it mentioned that there needs to be a management plan before traps are removed from the reefs. Is this true?

A. Talk of a management plan is “code” used by those with an interest in protecting the commercial fishing industry’s misuse of the artificial reefs. It is also misinformation designed to confuse the public and deflect attention from a few legislators posturing and blocking “Traps Off the Reefs” (A-1152) legislation from being heard.

The framework for managing gear on reefs is already provided under the Summer Flounder/Black Sea Bass Management Plan of the Mid Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, which allows reefs to be designated as Special Management Zones (SMZ). Florida, Georgia and South Carolina obtained SMZ status for their reefs and thus limited fishing gear to hook and line, and spear — there are no traps of any kind. The issue is simple, commercial gear are on the artificial reefs in violation of both the Federal Sport Fish Restoration Act and the public’s trust. The commercial gear must be removed.

Q. Who are the legislators blocking the “Traps Off the Reefs” bill (A-1152) and how can I contact them and ask them to allow the bill to be heard in the Assembly?

A. At this time, we believe the best course of action is for people to contact Assemblyman Albano, District 1. As Chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resources committee, Assemblyman Albano has the authority to allow the committee to hear bill A-1152. It is in this committee that the bill should be first heard. Once the bill passes the committee it will then move on to the full Assembly for a vote.

Our lack of involvement in protecting the things that belong to us has provided others with the will to take advantage of us and has created the problem of commercial gear on the reefs. The commercial fishing industry is using a part of the profits they make on our artificial reefs to fund efforts to restrict recreational anglers from accessing the reefs.

We have provided a letter that you can send to Assemblyman Albano, along with copies to the Governor, Lt. Governor, Senate President, Assembly Speaker, and all Assembly legislators. Simply go to the link that follows, fill in a few bits of information and then click your mouse.

It’s time to tell our legislators to return the artificial reefs to anglers and to stop jeopardizing the flow of Federal funding to New Jersey that is used to manage the reefs. Tell Assemblyman Albano to give us back our reefs! Here’s the link:

(Answers provided by Bill Figley, retired Director, NJ Artificial Reef Program and Anthony Mauro, Chair, New Jersey Outdoor Alliance.)

Color The Green Movement Blue
Color The Green Movement Blue

Anthony P. Mauro, Sr, (also known as “Ant” to friends and associates) is Chairman and co-founder of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance.

In addition to NJOA, Ant’s commitment to the principles of sustainable use of natural resources and stewardship for the environment helped to found the New Jersey Angling & Hunting Conservation Caucus. The NJAHC is the first outdoor caucus of its kind in New Jersey and is designed to educate opinion leaders and policy makers of the principles of conservation and the benefits that confer to the state’s wildlife and ecology.

A lifelong resident of New Jersey, Ant is an international big game hunter and avid conservationist. He has authored two books on conservation and hunting, including “Color The Green Movement Blue“.