Q&A Round #2 – Give Us Back Our Reefs
By Anthony P Mauro, Sr (c) 2011
USA –-(Ammoland.com)- Thank you for your interest in learning more about how New Jersey’s ocean reefs are being used inappropriately.
We received a large number of requests for additional information on the unfair practices taking place on New Jersey’s ocean reefs. We’re glad to answer your questions.
It’s important to realize that as with public parks, the ocean reefs belong to all of us – regardless of whether or not we use them. Therefore, it is wrong for commercial interests to profit from a public trust (our State-built reefs) while restricting public access. Just as it would be wrong for a business to establish a manufacturing plant on a public park and restrict public access.
You can use the link that follows to send a prewritten letter requesting that bill A-1152 be heard in the Assembly, which allows for public access (hook and line, and spear fishing) to ocean reefs as intended by the Federal Sport Fish Restoration Program.
Q.) What are the objectives of New Jersey's Reef Program?
A.) According to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection's “Reef Management Plan,” the objectives of the Reef Program are to create hard substrate habitat for marine life, new fishing grounds for hook and line, and spear fishing (recreational or commercial), underwater attractions for scuba divers and economic benefits to the state's recreational fishing and diving industries.
Q.) What types of fishing gear are appropriate for use on reefs? Is there any particular gear that is inappropriate?
A.) Since reefs were designed for use by the general public and built with Federal Sport Fish Restoration funds, the appropriate gear for use on ocean reefs is inefficient gear; hook and line, and spear. Hook and line can be used by recreational or commercial fishermen. This is also true for reefs built in other states.
Highly efficient gear is inappropriate for use on artificial reefs. This includes gear that is capable of catching large quantities of fish such as traps, trawls, dredges and gill nets. Gear such as trap lines catch fish and lobster 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, without the fisherman having to be present. The trap lines also restrict access to the reefs by those using hook and line, or spear. The trap lines act to snag rigs and anchors, and also impede divers.
Additionally, the dragging of trawl nets or dredges across reefs destroys reef structures. Gill nets become entangled and lost in reef structures and indefinitely ensnare and kill fish.
Q.) What are “ghost” traps?
A.) When traps (fixed gear) are lost during storms or through entanglement in reef structures, they are referred to as “Ghost traps.” Ghost traps continue to catch and kill fish, crabs and lobsters until a degradable panel, or the net funnel, is finally breached. The extensive ground ropes and plastic-coated wire traps last for decades on the sea floor. These remnants, also known as “Ghost gear” are an impediment to angling; snagging fishing rigs, anchors and even divers.
Q.) Are reefs the only place commercial fishermen can catch lobsters?
A.) No. New Jersey's traditional lobster fishing grounds encompass extensive areas of rough bottom, rock outcroppings, deep sloughs, channel edges, clay banks, the shelf edge and thousands of old shipwrecks and snags. Lobsters were caught in traps for decades before the Reef Program was started; there are fewer trap fishermen today than there were prior to reef development. In fact, according to commercial docks, over 80 percent of the state's lobsters are caught in the Mud Hole, an extensive area far removed from any reef.
Additionally, the lobsters that are on reefs do not remain there, they move around with seasonal changes in water temperature. Traps do not have to be set on reefs to catch lobsters, since lobsters migrate over the sea floor they will eventually find their way into a trap set elsewhere.
Ocean reefs are of great benefit to commercial lobster fishermen, regardless if they set a trap on a reef. A Department of Environmental Protection study found that reefs are nursery grounds, which produce 14 “baby” (cricket-sized) lobsters per square yard of reef structure. In total, NJ's 15 reef sites provide nursery habitat for tens of millions of baby lobsters. As lobsters age and reach market size, they move off reefs and become available to trap fishermen. Hook and line fishermen rarely catch lobsters on reefs, nearly all go to commercial harvest.
Q.) Who is in charge of building reefs in New Jersey?
A.) In 1984, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), initiated the State's Reef Program, which replaced some small private reef initiatives. The DFW is solely responsible for all ocean reef construction in NJ. The DFW developed a network of 15 ocean reef sites, 2 of these sites are in state waters and 13 sites are in federal waters. Each site requires a permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers. The 15 reef sites encompass about 25 square miles of sea floor, representing 0.3 percent of the total ocean bottom off the Jersey coast. Therefore, 99.7 percent of the sea floor is open to all types of fishing gear.
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.) Can federal funding be discontinued for the ocean reefs if New Jersey is not in conformance with the Federal Sport Fish Restoration Program?
A.) Yes. In fact, in an April 2008 letter to us, Mr. John Organ, PhD, Chief, Wildlife Section, US Fish and Wildlife wrote that Federal regulations and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service policy are, “…explicit that commercial use of the reefs cannot interfere with the purposes for which the lands are being managed.” According to Dr. Organ, one of the approved grant objectives, consistent with the Sport Fish Restoration Program is, “To provide increased fishing opportunity to recreational anglers, and thus provide economic benefits to New Jersey's sport fishing industry.”
If New Jersey does not conform to the purposes outlined in the Federal Sport Fish Restoration Program – funding for the reefs can be discontinued.
Q. I've heard it mentioned again that there needs to be a management plan before traps are removed from the reefs. Is this true?
A. No. 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 fixed gear was simply removed.
(NOTE: Answers provided by Bill Figley, retired Coordinator, NJ Artificial Reef Program and Anthony Mauro, Chair, New Jersey Outdoor Alliance)
NJOA (CF) Council members supporting “Traps Off the Reefs” are:
– New Jersey Outdoor Alliance – Reef Rescue – NJ Council Diving Clubs – Jersey Coast Anglers Association – NJ Trout Unlimited – NJ Beach Buggy Association- Hudson River Fishermen's Association – Greater Point Pleasant Charter Boat Association – Jersey Shark Anglers Association – Cape May County Party & Charter Boat Association – NJ State Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs – Hi-Mar Striper Club
Non Council Members supporting “Traps Off the Reefs”:
– Saltwater Anglers of Bergen County – The Regency Fishing Club – Manasquan Fishing Club – Sunrise Bay Anglers Fishing Club
Anthony P. Mauro, Sr
New Jersey Outdoor Alliance
New Jersey Outdoor Alliance Conservation Foundation
New Jersey Outdoor Alliance Environmental Projects
“Preservation through conservation”
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“.