Recreational fishing clubs and divers threw their support behind special management zone status for 13 reef sites at the Mid-Atlantic Marine Fisheries Council public hearing held Wednesday in Toms River.
The designation could prohibit the use of any gear on the reefs except hook and line and spear fishing, and the taking of fish by hand. In other words, it would eliminate fish traps principally used by commercial fishermen.
A couple lobster men spoke their opposition to any plan that would deny them use of the ocean floor.
Greg DiDomenico, the head of the commercial fishing trade group Garden State Seafood Association, said he didn’t doubt the existence of gear conflicts on the reefs but would like to see a compromise made instead.
“All we really want is some resolution to this problem other than a complete prohibition,” he said.
The group suggested before that the reefs should be divided among users groups: three reefs for divers, six for recreational fishermen, and three for commercial fishermen. One reef would remain as a scientific no take zone.
However, support for the elimination of pots was by far the strongest in the room.
Bill Figley, the former chief of the state’s artificial reef program, now speaking on behalf of the Beach Haven Marlin and Tuna Club, said pot fishermen can easily monopolize a reef with their gear.
“When you put hundreds of traps on a reef site, and thousands of feet of ground line and dozens of buoy lines, you create a real quagmire. It makes it difficult to fish,” he said.
How we got here
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection petitioned the Mid-Atlantic Marine Fisheries Council to designate the 13 artifi- cial reef sites as Special Management Zones last November.
That, of course, was preceded by a long, turf war between commercial and recreational fishermen on the reefs that culminated with the state’s artificial reef program being shut down in 2011.
A compromise was reached last year on the reefs in state waters where commercial fishermen were given access to portions of two existing reefs and a new square-mile reef was agreed to be constructed in state waters for use by recreational anglers.
The compromise did not address the 13 reefs in federal waters outside of three miles, but the SMZ measure would.
Your two cents
Written comments will be accepted until Nov. 25 and may be sent by any of the following methods:
» Mail to Dr. Chris Moore, Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, 800 North State Street, Suite 201, Dover, DE, 19901 (include “NJ SMZ Request” on envelope);
» Fax to Dr. Chris Moore, Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council at fax number 302-674-5399 (include “NJ SMZ Re- quest” in the subject line); or
» Email to Rich Sea- graves at rsea- email@example.com (in- clude “NJ SMZ Request” in the subject line).
Dan Radel: 732-643- 4072; dradel@gan- nettnj.com