March 12, 2008
Feds closing N.J. tautog fishery
By KIRK MOORE
TOMS RIVER BUREAU No blackfish for you, New Jersey.
The Shore's tautog fishery will be closed by the federal government on April 1, culminating a year-long dispute between state regulators and fisheries biologists who say New Jersey anglers catch too many tog.
"New Jersey failed to implement measures that would reduce New Jersey's tautog landings by 25.6 percent to address scientific concerns that the species is overfished," wrote James W. Balsiger, acting assistant administrator for fisheries at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in a letter Tuesday to Gov. Corzine.
NOAA's fisheries service is imposing a moratorium on fishing for tautog until New Jersey comes up with a plan for bringing its rules into compliance with the management plan of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Service, Balsiger wrote.
"We fully intend to come into compliance. We're going to work with the (state Marine Fisheries) council to avoid a moratorium," said Darlene Yuhas, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The council has maintained that New Jersey's tog landings have already declined over the years. New Jersey officials made that argument to the Atlantic states commission last August but could not persuade the interstate group to budge from its position.
In turn, "the council was exercising its only prerogative" by refusing to conform to the ASMFC demand for cutbacks, said Thomas P. Fote, legislative chairman for the Jersey Coast Anglers Association. "They were saying, "We've been stripped of our authority and flexibility.' "
But at this point, "we really have little choice," Fote added. "We can't shut down the fishery. It's too important."
It won't be hard to pull together 2008 rules to meet the target of a nearly 26 percent reduction because state Division of Fish and Wildlife biologists "have already done the math on that," Fote said. "All they would need to do is have a council meeting real quick."
"The next step is in the hands of the council," said Maggie Mooney-Seus, a spokeswoman at NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Gloucester, Mass. The agency acted during a 30-day period after the Atlantic states board declared New Jersey out of compliance, and the state has 60 days to respond with new fishing rules.
Also known as blackfish, tautog are found around beachfront jetties, offshore wrecks and other areas where hard bottom, rocks and other structure support food for the fish.
"Slow growth and reproduction and a tendency to congregate around wrecks and rock piles make tautog particularly susceptible to overfishing," according to ASMFC documents. "The 2005 stock assessment of tautog and external peer review concluded that total biomass and recruitment for tautog remain at very low levels."
When regulators blamed recreational anglers last year, that set off a fierce debate in the fishing community, with some activists contending the real problem is illegal sales to live-fish city markets in New York and Philadelphia.