"Freedom to Fish" bills on moving in NJ Assembly

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'Freedom to Fish' bills on tap?

Asbury Park Press

3/19/03

The move of the Recreational Fishing Alliance to seek state legislative protection for the freedom to fish in marine waters has apparently come none too soon.
Alarmed by the recent closing of 175 square miles of California's marine waters to fishing, the RFA is attempting to have "Freedom to Fish" bills introduced in coastal state legislatures throughout the nation, and the initiative has wide support in New Jersey.

Herb Moore Jr., director of government affairs for the RFA, said both the state Assembly and Senate are reacting positively to the measure, but Monday's hearing on the bill (S-2323) by the Senate Environment Committee revealed opposition exists.

New Jersey environmental extremists who oppose fishing are not as organized as those in California at this point, and their plan of first seeking closures of specific fishing grounds has not been launched.

Sens. John Matheussen, R-Camden, and Andy Ciesla, R-Ocean, introduced legislation to establish important standards that must be met before any of the state's marine waters can be closed to recreational fishing, and the measure passed the Senate committee by a 4-1 vote with one abstention.

A companion bill passed the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, 5-0, last week.

"We faced opposition from some anti-fishing environmental groups," said Moore, who testified at Monday's hearing. "But the majority of the committee recognized the need for reasonable, scientifically based standards that must be met before any of our state's marine waters can be closed off as no fishing areas."

Moore pointed out that the California closure to the state's best fishing grounds around the Channel Islands despite robust fish stocks and the threat of expanding the closed area, demonstrate the intent and power of the anti-fishing movement.

"Such closures will have a devastating impact on the recreational fishing industry and coastal communities," he pointed out.

The closures have spawned lawsuits from recreational and commercial fishermen against the California Department of Fish and Game, but environmentalists, who demonstrated with their successful lawsuit over the fluke regulations a few years ago, proved that they have deeper pockets than fishermen.

"The marine environment can be adequately protected without unnecessarily closing off areas to recreational fishermen," Moore said. "Recreational fishermen were among the first conservationists, and we have demonstrated a commitment to conservation through abidance with minimum size requirements, bag limits and seasonal closures."

The New Jersey Freedom to Fish Act would prohibit closures to recreational fishing unless there is a clear indication that this type of fishing is causing a specific conservation problem and that less severe conservation measures will not be adequate.

Further, it would require periodic review of any closures, a scientific basis for the size of any closure, and provision to reopen areas to recreational fishing whenever the basis for the closure no longer exists.

James A. Donofrio, executive director of the RFA, said the organization is not against the concept of marine protected areas, if they are needed, but it wants to establish standards in New Jersey waters before any closures can be made.

"Recreational fishing is one of the most popular outdoor activities in this state, and it adds a lot to the quality of life in New Jersey," Donofrio said. "Nearly one million anglers fish in our waters each year, making a major contribution to the state and local economies."
 


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