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By MICHAEL MILLER Staff Writer, AC Press
(609) 463-6712, E-Mail

UPPER TOWNSHIP - Local sport fishermen want to keep striped bass off the commercial menu for the time being.

Members of the Strathmere Environmental Fishing Club on Saturday said they oppose a plan to open federal waters to striped-bass fishing for fear the relaxed rules would lead to immediate overfishing. This is one long-suspected culprit for the game fish's decline in the 1970s and 1980s.

Michael Doebley, spokesman for the Washington-based Recreational Fishing Alliance, told a roomful of fishermen at the Strathmere Volunteer Fire Hall to keep the federal ban in place.

"Anglers need to stand up on this one and be good conservationists," he said.

Federal law prohibits commercial or recreational anglers from keeping striped bass caught between three miles and 200 miles offshore from Maine to Florida. New Jersey allows recreational fishermen to keep as many as three stripers per day within three miles of shore.

No commercial fishing is allowed.

But now that striped-bass numbers have rebounded, commercial and recreational fishermen alike want the federal waters reopened.

The new zone would be a huge draw for local charter boats, said Dick Herb, who runs two boats out of Avalon. Some of the biggest striped bass are found only far offshore beyond the 3-mile limit.

Herb, who also sits on the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council, said the law does not deter some of his competitors from poaching fish outside the boundary.

"I've lost a fair number of striper customers because they know I won't go out there," he said. "I get customers who ask me, 'Captain, are you going to cheat?'

"If the zone stays closed, let's enforce it," Herb said.

Recreational fishermen and commercial fishermen have a longstanding feud in New Jersey because they compete for the rights to the same fish. But U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, said both sides share a common interest when it comes to stripers.

"Many environmental groups want to shut fishing down altogether. Recreational and commercial groups are coming together against radical environmental groups that want no hunting and no fishing," LoBiondo said.

Indeed, the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club opposes any easing of restrictions on striped-bass fishing unless federal studies conclude doing so would not harm bass numbers, Director Jeff Tittel said.

But Tittel disagreed that environmental groups such as the Sierra Club are at odds with all anglers.

"Most of the time, we side with the recreational guys, who are usually better on the environmental side," he said.

State Sen. Nick Asselta, R-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, said any future decision on stripers should consider the economic impact on the state's economy. Anglers flock to the shore in the late fall for striper action, particularly in the Delaware Bay.

On Saturday, at least one gillnet fisherman spoke in favor of keeping the federal waters free of commercial fishermen.

"I was afraid someone would throw something at me," commercial fisherman Ed Blane joked as he stood up among the crowd of recreational anglers.

"You'd be waking a sleeping giant. Everyone would be there. They'd cream them," he said.
 
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