Proposed law fails reality check
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff
The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act is getting closer to passage in the House of Representatives, but some aspects of the bill remain controversial.

This legislation is intertwined with the ongoing dispute over next year's fluke quota that could severely limit the recreational fishery. The basic problem involves the law's 10-year rebuilding program and a target figure for 2010 that probably couldn't be met if all fluke fishing was stopped right now.

The surprisingly strong tropical storm did more damage than expected, particularly with sailboats torn from their moorings in Atlantic Highlands Harbor, and practically eliminated fishing during the beginning of the Labor Day weekend. Though the seas calmed quickly, it often takes a day or two for bottom fishing to return to normal. Capt. Victor Medina of Newark reported that friends fishing Raritan Bay on Sunday didn't have any luck with fluke, but told him birds were working over bluefish throughout the bay.


Capt. Don Hager starts Sunday afternoon 27-hour canyon trips with his Sea Fox from Atlantic Highlands next Sunday, departing at 3 p.m. The cost is $325 per angler.

The Capt. Dave from Atlantic Highlands got into some weakfish on worms Wednesday in the back of the bay for the Scenic Paving party from Kenilworth. Charlie Messina of Garwood took the pool with a 26-incher.

At Brielle, Capt. Howard Bogan Jr. said his Jamaica had good bluefishing Thursday at Shrewsbury Rocks before the stormy weekend. Most of the blues were 3- to 6-pounders on jigs. The new sailing schedule provides bluefish trips on Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 17 at 7:30 a.m., and Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30. Canyon trips sail at 6 p.m. every Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in September. There's a special two-day trip for tuna, dolphin and tilefish sailing at 1 a.m. Sept. 12, and the Jamaica will then depart every day at 6 p.m. for the canyons starting Sept. 17. Call (732) 528-5014 for information.

There haven't been any more 18-pound fluke weighed at T&A Tackle in Port Monmouth, but Bob Craney recently brought in a 6-pounder from Shrewsbury Rocks, while Glenn Lindeman and his Buckwing Products crew fished Ambrose for a fluke just less than 9 pounds. A few anglers who braved the weekend weather caught some stripers up to 30 inches from shore on clams.

Capt. Bob Veres of Bethlehem Township was drifting for fluke in Sandy Hook Channel recently when he hooked a 6-pound fish he'd never seen before that turned out to be a stargazer. That bottom species carries an electrical charge on top of its head and sports a set of small but sharp teeth. I've caught a few, but never more than one in an area. Veres filleted the stargazer and said the white meat tasted even better than fluke.

The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council meets Thursday at 3 p.m. in a Central Jersey location. The site is Assunpink Wildlife Management Area, One Eldridge Rd., Robbinsville.

The target is an estimate of what fluke stocks were at their maximum in the 1930s, but it's little more than a guess made without reference to the forage and predation at the time, or the loss of wetlands since then.

The National Marine Fisheries Service wants to impose a tiny 5.2-million pound quota for next year in order to keep on track for meeting that target, but with only 40 percent of that going to the public we'd be looking at a recreational season of only a few weeks at probably an 18-inch minimum and only a few fish for a bag limit.

The economic implications of that would be crushing for party boats, tackle shops and every business associated with the most popular summer inshore species.

Rep. Jim Saxton (R-3rd Dist.) is putting heat on NMFS to review that target figure and come up with a more realistic goal. It's not that there's real overfishing involved as fluke stocks have been increasing steadily and the spawning stock biomass is in excellent shape. There has been poor recruitment despite the abundance of spawners, but that could be due to many natural factors -- including the abundance of spiny dogfish that are eating everything in the ocean.

One of the basic flaws of the Magnuson Act is the approach that calls for every species to be rebuilt to its historical peak of abundance.

It's very unlikely that could actually happen in nature, and by protecting spiny dogfish the net result is likely to be less of everything else. I advocated an ecosystem approach during my one term on the original Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, and continue to do so. Marine fisheries should be managed similar to those of the Great Lakes where fishery managers first take the forage into account and consider the needs of other desired species before determining how many salmon to stock. They also are under no obligation to build up the lamprey eels and carp that would negatively impact what they're trying to accomplish.

Managing fisheries for the best interests of society should be common sense, but that's not what's been done under the present Magnuson Act system.

Saxton is trying to incorporate language that would provide flexibility in management so that the basic concept of the law -- public management of marine fisheries through a council system -- can become a reality.