Proposed Measure Would Ease Strict Constraints on Commercial and Sport Fishermen

Tom Johnson | September 30, 2011 | Energy & Environment
Relaxing the rules could help protect the fishing industry, a key economic driver of the Jersey Shore

Jim Lovgren, a commercial fisherman operating out of Point Pleasant, says he might have shut down his operation if the timeframe for rebuilding the summer flounder fish stock hadn’t been extended by three years.

“That little adder kept me in business,” said Lovgren, who attended a press conference yesterday with other commercial and recreational fishermen to back a bill introduced last week by Rep. Frank Pallone, a congressman representing Shore communities.

The bill, they say, would help preserve a commercial and recreational fishing industry that is vital to the Jersey Shore, an economic engine that provides jobs to about 50,00 people. It also would provide some flexibility to stringent quotas established by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commissions, which have hit people who fish for a living and fish for recreation hard.

“The concern is it’s become too rigid,” said Pallone, speaking in Atlantic Highlands overlooking the water there. “It’s become more and more impossible for a commercial fisherman to make a livelihood or for a recreational fisherman to enjoy fishing.”

Much of the problems with the new quotas, designed to rebuild fish stocks through a ten-year time frame, is that the agencies do not adjust them—even when populations of certain fisheries rebound above the targets set by the government. The other major complaint is a lack of sound scientific data used to establish the quotas, a fact that has led the agencies to be overly conservative in setting catch limits, according to the fishing groups.

Pallone’s bill, which has a Republican co-sponsor from North Carolina, aims to deal with those problems by allowing for an extension of timeframes, similar to what was done with the summer flounder stock, which got a three-year extension to 2013. It also grants authority to the Secretary of Commerce to suspend the implementation of annual catch limits when a stock is healthy and the proposed restrictions are burdensome and not based on scientific information.

“This bill will help people from Montauk to Cape Hatteras,” said Greg DiDomenico, executive director of the Garden State Seafood Association, a group representing commercial fishermen in New Jersey. “What’s a fishery without fishermen?” he asked.

In 2008, commercial fishing generated $108 billion in sales and $45 billion in income impacts, according to Pallone. Recreational fishing supported $59 billion in sales and $27 billion in value-added impacts.

“There’s no consequence for them not doing their job,” argued Tom Fote, of the Jersey Coast Anglers, “but there are fishermen. We’ve had tackle stores close and we’ve had marinas shut.”

Jim Donofrio of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) agreed, noting that there are boats tied to the docks in the Gulf of Mexico because of catch limits on red snapper. “This bill fits everyone,” Donofrio said. “It gets everyone fishing again.”

A contrary view was expressed by Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “If anything, the science shows we are not protecting the ocean from overfishing,” he said. “The only time they put limits in place is when the fish populations are crashing.”