Federal lawmakers from New Jersey are asking why a large chunk of the state’s traditional fluke harvest was recently given to anglers in New York.
Eight lawmakers, including Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, both D-N.J., along with six congressmen, have written the two federal agencies that cast key votes earlier this month for a management plan projected to give New York anglers 20 percent of the fish normally landed by Garden State fishermen.
The letter asks Director Dan Ashe of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and acting Administrator Kathryn Sullivan of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to explain their votes.
“We are troubled that NFWS and NOAA would support the adoption of these new measures. We request that both of your agencies provide our offices with the rationale for your support and explain what consideration your agency gave to the adverse impacts these measures would have on New Jersey’s anglers,” the lawmakers wrote.
The letter was penned by Reps. Frank Lobiondo, R-2nd, and Frank Pallone, D-6th. Jason Galanes, a spokesman for LoBiondo, said the lawmakers do not expect any relief for this year, but it could affect 2015.
“This is more a forward play for next year,” Galanes said.
The lawmakers want to understand why the federal agencies cast deciding votes, which rarely happens when the East Coast states make management changes. The votes were made earlier this month during a meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a compact of East Coast states that regulates migratory fish. Each state has a vote along with the federal agencies.
Tom Fote, a New Jersey representative to the ASMFC, made a motion to keep the existing management plan but allow states seeking more fish, such as New York, to pick up quota from states that don’t land all the fluke they are allowed. The vote failed 4-7 with NOAA and Fish and Wildlife voting against it. If the agencies had voted the other way it would have passed 6-5, Fote said.
Galanes credits Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who unsuccessfully tried to make the change through legislation, with swinging the vote.
“Credit Sen. Schumer. He played a fast one and surprised Sen. Menendez and the rest of us. This effort is so we have no surprises going forward,” Galanes said.
Fote, however, blames the regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries, John K. Bullard, who gave a speech at the ASMFC meeting supporting the new plan.
“He’s the one who engineered it all. Schumer did it, but he couldn’t have won the battle without the speech he gave. He spoke for it and was the deciding vote,” Fote said.
Bullard also came under attack from Fote on Wednesday when NOAA Fisheries announced the award of $36 million in fisheries disaster relief funds and $33 million of it went to New England states. Bullard lives in Massachusetts and ran federal fisheries assistance programs in the region from 1993-98. He is also a former mayor of New Bedford. Fote said New Jersey only got $1.5 million.
“He’s a former mayor of New Bedford who always takes care of his people,” Fote said.
The federal agencies rarely cast such key votes at ASMFC meetings.
“That’s a concern. It’s happened a few times. We want to know what changed this time around, and that will give us direction,” Galanes said.
Chairman Dick Herb, of the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council, recalls it happening before with a black sea bass plan. Herb said New Jersey’s longtime fluke quota, the largest on the coast at 39.1 percent of the coastal harvest, has been challenged for years.
“We’ve been fighting for 10 years. This is something that happened awfully quickly. I think it’s shot for this year, but the attention we’re getting from anglers and legislators will help in 2015,” Herb said.
He said a lawsuit threat by New York, which got 17.6 percent of the harvest, the second highest amount, helped bring about the change.
The new system is likely to allow New York anglers to catch a smaller fish while the size limit increases in New Jersey. That could cause overages in New York that would penalize New Jersey, since both were lumped in the same fishing region. If that happens, Herb said it would be a good argument to go back to the system in place before the changes.
The lawmakers also complained the proposed changes were only announced in December, leaving two months for public input and study. They said that was not long enough to make informed decisions.
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