TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey plans to create a new artificial fishing reef north of Barnegat Inlet exclusively for the use of recreational fishermen.
It’s the result of a compromise announced Thursday in a dispute between recreational and commercial fishing interests over access to artificial reefs off the coast.
Under the plan, commercial fishermen will have continued access to portions of the two existing reefs in state waters, which are off Sandy Hook and Manasquan. But a debate remains on who should have access to reefs in federal waters off New Jersey.
State officials said the agreement is expected to resolve federal concerns that commercial fishing is intruding on and hampering recreational fishing in artificial reefs in state waters, which extend to three miles offshore.
The reefs, which are magnets for fish, are funded by excise taxes on recreational fishing gear and motor boat fuel. Private donations also support the costs of obtaining, cleaning and deploying suitable material to build the reefs.
The new reef is expected to take one to two years to design and build, and even longer to become fully productive.
It will encompass roughly the same area — about a square mile of ocean floor — as the portions of state water reefs that commercial fishermen will be allowed to continue using, the state Department of Environmental Protection said. The exact location remains to be determined.
The New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, which represents recreational fishing groups, was quoted in the DEP announcement as describing the plan as “a giant step” toward resolving gear conflicts and other issues raised by recreational anglers.
“Though the restoration of federal funding to the New Jersey Reef Program is requisite for a final resolution, we are very encouraged by the prospect of an equitable conclusion to what has long been an obstinate problem,” said Anthony Mauro, the alliance chairman.
The DEP said it will petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore nearly $250,000 in annual reef research, improvements and maintenance which it said has been withheld as a result of the dispute.
Part of this funding would be used to pay for a portion of the new reef, expected to cost about $200,000, the DEP said. Donations from commercial and recreational fishing interests would also be used.
The state holds permits for 13 artificial reefs in federal waters and two in state waters. They are made of materials from concrete and steel to old ships and barges, creating surfaces for marine organisms to grow, providing both food and shelter for fish.
The DEP said it will petition the federal Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council for a designation that would allow commercial gear to be prohibited on all 13 existing artificial reefs in federal waters. The council has sole authority over reefs in federal waters.
Scott Mackey, a spokesman for the Garden State Seafood Association, which represents commercial fishing interests, said his group will object to turning those reefs over solely to recreational fishermen. He said federal regulations allow for access for the seafood industry, and that the industry helped fund the reefs in the first place. “It’s going to be a continuing discussion,” Mackey said.
In New Jersey, recreational saltwater fishing brings in more than $640 million in retail sales and is directly responsible for nearly 10,000 jobs and $165 million in state and local taxes, the DEP said.
The commercial fishing industry in New Jersey supports $327 million in salaries and wages and nearly 13,000 jobs, the agency said.
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)