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Ristori: Congress holds striped bass hearings

BY AL RISTORIA
Star-Ledger Staff

Representatives Jim Saxton (R-N.J.) and Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) were on hand Thursday in Washington as the House Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans held a hearing on reauthorization of the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act (HR3883).

New Jersey was well represented among the few asked to testify. Both Tom Fote of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association and the New Jersey State Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, and Jim Donofrio of the Recreational Fishing Alliance emphasized their desire that federal waters remain closed to striped-bass retention in order not to endanger the recovery.

Kevin Walker of Barnegat Light suggested allowing commercial fishermen to retain their striper bycatch, but there's no chance of that happening in this striper gamefish state. Bycatch quickly becomes directed catch whenever netters spot a loophole. A couple of assemblymen entered such a bill a few years ago, but after a storm of protest they couldn't withdraw that legislation fast enough.

Fote also warned about current commercial bycatch, which is largely undocumented. Oceana New England did an analysis of observer data on southern New England trawlers and concluded the bycatch kill of striped bass in just the groundfish fishery there is between 1.4 and 2.4 million pounds a year.

I've seen floating stripers dumped by trawlers or gillnetters from Rockaway Inlet to Seaside, and watched a gillnetter dumping hundreds of bass off Sandy Hook just days after a massive fish kill was reported on the beaches there.

This sort of thing is going on all along the coast, and it must be subtracted from the commercial quotas which were jacked up over 42 percent (over New Jersey's objections) in Amendment 6.

Rep. Pallone said, "NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) should support funding studies that establish measures to minimize bycatch, a main cause of mortality to striped bass." John Dunnigan of NMFS couldn't give a commitment that such studies would take place, but Pallone said he'll continue to press the issue and also seek funds beyond the President's budget request.

The IGFA Banquet & Auction, to be held at 7 p.m. Friday at Mike Doolan's in Spring Lake Heights, is nearing a sellout. This seventh annual event has already raised over $60,000 for the Junior Angler and Conservation Programs, making it one of the most successful IGFA fund-raising events in the country.

I'm the guest speaker at the event, which is hosted by IGFA New Jersey reps Bill Feinberg, Jerry Gomber, Jeff Merrill and Pete Barrett. Over $20,000 in rods, reels, lures, accessories and collectible fishing items, plus marine art and jewelry and many fishing trips are available in the auction. An additional grand auction includes a sailfish bronze, a hand-carved striped bass by John Fish, and a Daiwa SLT50W reel matched to a Kevin Bogan custom rod. Call Jim Hutchinson Jr. at (732) 295-8600 for reservations.

Angler should get a kick out of watching Gotham Fish Tales, a documentary about the people who fish in New York City waters. Producer and director Rob Maass says this is no "how-to" presentation, but rather a portrait of the colorful characters who fish from bridges, piers and small boats. One is a cab driver who carries five rods in his taxi, which is plastered with photos of his catches. The show airs at 9 p.m. tomorrow on The Sundance Channel, and will be repeated at 8:15 a.m. March 25; 7:35 p.m. March 27, and 3 p.m. March 29. For information go to www.gothamfishtales.com.
 
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