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Audubon and Sierra oppose fisheries council nominees

Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Star-Ledger Staff

Just weeks after the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council riled environmentalists by nixing a plan to protect a troubled migrating shore bird, Gov. Jon Corzine is under fire on nominees he proposed this week to fill two public seats on the board.
The nominees are Kenneth Jen nings, the assistant director of Hudson County Parks and Recreation, and Eleanor Ann Bochenek, who has a doctorate in marine science and works for Rutgers University's Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory in Cape May. Senate approval is required before Corzine can fill openings on the council, which is dominated by commercial and recreational fishermen and establishes harvesting quotas for marine species off state shores.
Controversy engulfed the other wise obscure council on Feb. 11, when the panel's five commercial fishermen outvoted four recreational fishermen to stop the state Department of Environmental Protection from indefinitely extending a two-year moratorium on horseshoe crab harvests. DEP biologists say shore birds known as red knots are disappearing because they are not finding enough horseshoe crab eggs on the Delaware Bay shores during their crucial spring migra tion to northern breeding grounds.
Commercial fishermen, who sell the crabs as bait for the conch and eel industries, say other factors are affecting the red knot population.
The council's decision, which will allow the resumption of horseshoe crab harvesting this spring, angered New Jersey Audubon and the state chapter of the Sierra Club. Yesterday they steered that heat toward Corzine's nominees.
Both groups want the seats filled with people from environmental organizations, research scientists not linked to the fishing in dustry, environmental educators or people from the eco-tourism indus try. They said Jennings is a recreational fisherman and Bochenek's research has left her working closely with commercial fishermen.
"We saw what happened on Feb. 11 when people with special interests are appointed to a council like this. The public interests, like protecting the red knot, get screwed," said Eric Stiles of Audu bon.
"The way the council is made up, there are seats for the commercial fishing industry, the recreational fishermen and two spots for public members. These are the public seats the governor is filling, and the people he appoints to them should not come from the commercial or recreational fishing perspective," said Jeff Tittel of Sierra.
But Corzine spokesman Jim Gardner said the nominees' cre dentials are extensive and fit even the two environmental groups' standards. Jennings handles environmental education programs in Hudson County, and Bochenek is not affiliated with commercial fishing operations, he said.
"These are two people deeply committed to public service on a number of levels, and we feel fortunate to be able to present two nominees with their background," Gardner added.
Bochenek said she has worked with both recreational and commercial fishermen while conducting marine research. She also said she has not reviewed enough of the research on red knots and horseshoe crabs to determine how she would have voted on the harvest ban.
"I can't really say right now," she added. "I would base any decision on the available science. If I get on the council, I'd be using science to make any of my decisions."
Brian T. Murray may be reached at [email protected] or (973) 392-4153.

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