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N.J. shark fishing season may be lost over paperwork

Marty Buzas, who makes much of his living catching sharks, works on his boat at Roseman's Marina in Cape May. 'Hopefully, the governor will say this is a case of urgency and he'll sign the paper he needs to sign,' he says.

Photo by: Staff photo by Dale Gerhard

For several years now, shark fishermen have been told the New Jersey shark-management plan was on the governor's desk and that his approval would bring the state in line with federal regulations.
And that when he did, New Jersey fisherman would be able to keep catching sharks.
But earlier this month, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission ruled the state wasn't in compliance with federal regulations. That has opened the door for the secretary of commerce to decide within one month whether to impose a ban on fishing for 40 shark species.
The reason: Since being completed in November 2006, the state's management plan has been passed around by state agencies. It reached the desk of Gov. Jon Corzine in the last three months of his administration, but wasn't signed. It still sits there, only now it's the desk of Gov. Chris Christie.
That's forced the commission and possibly the federal government to declare the state out of line with federal regulations.
Marty Buzas, 40, of Cape May Court House, kept hearing that promise and didn't worry too much. Buzas was still catching plenty of sharks. Nobody was trying to stop him.
Buzas, who was busy Monday building a cabin on his 42-foot commercial gillnet boat Eileen B to get ready for shark season, is suddenly very worried.
Without sharks, Buzas said he would lose 60 percent of his income. He also catches bunker, bluefish and drumfish, but the Middle Township resident mostly targets sharks. He starts with spiny dogfish in late April, goes to smooth dogfish, then threshers in May, and spends the summer landing makos and blue sharks.
"Hopefully, the governor will say this is a case of urgency and he'll sign the paper he needs to sign. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has been lenient. Hopefully this one will go to the top of the pile," Buzas said.
It's still unclear, but such a ban might not apply to those with a federal shark permit in spite of state "landing laws" that sometimes impose state restrictions on fish landed anywhere.
Buzas said Barnegat Light is home port to a lot of shark fishermen who will be severely affected.
A ban could also have a huge effect on recreational shark fishing, including the tournaments that go on during the summer months.
"Without sharks, I'll be done. There're plenty of them out there. If they only knew how many there are. I keep moseying along the beach from the mouth of the Delaware Bay to Atlantic City, on a five-day cycle, and there's no shortage of them," Buzas said.
The problem, however, is not a conservation issue. The regulatory package now ignored by two governors includes some measures to protect "pupping," or nursery grounds for sandbar sharks, but Buzas said laws already ban harvests of that species.
The regulatory package contains minor changes for a number of fish species. Such packages are put together every few years and approved by the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council and then sent to the governor.
"It's not the Marine Fisheries Council's fault. They have all this in order. The problem is they don't have the power to approve," Buzas said.
In some states, changes to fishing regulations can be made at lower levels of government, but not in New Jersey. Council Chairman Gil Ewing said the package that also included changes for drumfish, artificial fishing reefs and other issues was approved by the council in November 2006 and sent to the state Department of Environmental Protection that December. It then made its way to various agencies for sign off.
Such plans are checked for possible impacts on endangered species or wetlands, and Ewing said even the impacts on housing were studied. Then Ewing said "the lawyers" get the regulations and they often take things out and add things. This all took several years.
The package finally got to former Gov. Corzine late in his term.
"It sat on Corzine's desk for three months, and as far as I know nothing has been done about it. These regulations are all put together with advice of the industry. We try to keep people fishing. We were hoping to get this done for the fishing season in 2007," Ewing said.
The plan also includes a drumfish plan that Ewing said Delaware has been waiting for, because it wants to match regulations with New Jersey's for the Delaware Bay fishery.
Ewing said fishermen were able to continue fishing partly because a decision was made to allow those with a federal shark permit to continue fishing some species in federal waters, which begin 3 miles from the shore.
Tom McCloy, who heads the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Administration, said other East Coast states "are not happy with New Jersey."
McCloy doesn't see the package being in place until June at the earliest and possibly not until August.
Even after the governor signs it, the package needs to be published in the New Jersey Register and go through a public hearing process before returning to the council for approval or rejection.
McCloy noted the state was supposed to be in compliance by Jan. 1, 2009.
"I don't think there will be much tolerance for New Jersey not having it in effect, no matter whose fault it is," McCloy said.
Ewing said he has contacted some lawmakers who are trying to "push it through," but without success.
"As far as I know there's nothing in this controversial to Christie. He doesn't know anything about it. He just got saddled with it," Ewing said.
The New Jersey Fish and Game Council, Ewing noted, is set up differently and can make quick changes to hunting regulations.
Others are worried about impacts. Rick Weber, owner of South Jersey Marina, said many of those at his marina fish for sharks, starting in early June.
"I didn't see this coming. I was blindsided and from what I'm hearing it's largely a paperwork oversight," Weber said.
Kevin Wark, a Barnegat Light commercial fisherman, said it could have a big impact on gillnet boats catching smooth dogfish this spring. Wark said this is not the first time New Jersey's slow approval process caused such issues.
"Other states do it instantly. North Carolina does it at the drop of a hat. Virginia changes the rules as needed. We need to update our system," said Wark

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Hmm let see
can't Sea Bass Fish until June
Can't Fluke fish in May & Sept & Oct
Can't Shark Fish in June & July
Can't keep any Dogfish - Smooth or Spiny's

Time to fire up the smoker and go kill some Bluefish I guess

Captn Joe
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