THE LATEST ON THE STRIPED BASS REGS: First, the yes-and-no side of things to date.
Yes, we are out of compliance with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council. No, we are not going to stay out of compliance.
Yes, we could get in trouble for going out of compliance. No, we probably won?t get into trouble for being noncompliant.
Yes, the state Legislature, specifically the Senate, still has to pass the new bass laws when it reconvenes after summer recess. No, they are not back in session yet.
Yes, there is still some lingering debate among angler groups over which option to accept. (Guarded) No, that debate should not hamper the speedy passing of the bass laws once recess is over.
Yes, the 50th annual Long Beach Island Fishing Tournament will be running in all its glory. No, you won?t be able to enter bass under 34 inches.
Those basics in place, here?s the latest goings on ? and it?s kinda interesting if you?re willing to absorb it, like a sublingual nitro tablet.
By the by, you really should take this legal striper stuff to heart because there are some potentially huge changes coming to the entire bass fishing scene by next year, among them the possibility of ?zones? in Jersey, possibly having two fish over 28 inches north of Barnegat Inlet and a slot fish and 34-incher or larger keeper bass, south of that inlet. More on the zones further below.
First, an update on what?s playing out as we speak.
Our Congressional buddies Reps Jim Saxton and Frank Pallone have (as usual) quickly stepped to the plate for us by shooting off personal letters assuring the U.S. secretaries of Commerce and the Interior that NJ has every intention of becoming compliant. These letters are of prime importance since those secretaries, under advisement of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, could have already thrown a bassing moratorium over the state.
Obviously, it is now all up to Trenton.
Let?s go there.
On June 24, 2004, the state Assembly passed (by a vote of 59-17-3) a bill changing the striped bass laws. That very same day, a Senate version of the bill -- sponsored by Senator Nicholas Asselta, District 1 (Cape May, Atlantic and Cumberland) and Senator Stephan M. Sweeney, District 3 (Salem, Cumberland and Gloucester) -- went to the Senate Environmental Committee, where it never escaped, due to the start of the summer recess.
The Senate bill now awaits the return of the Legislature in September.
By the by, here is the exact wordage of the bill as it applies to bass sizes. It is the same in both Houses:
Current law sets the basic daily catch and possession limit for striped bass at two fish, as follows: one fish of at least 28 inches in length and another fish of at least 24 inches but less than 28 inches in length. This bill would change that limit to provide instead that one fish must be at least 24 inches but less than 28 inches in length and the other must be at least 34 inches in length. The bill would not make any changes to a separate provision of the law that allows under certain circumstances the taking of additional striped bass under the "bonus fish" program. The bill would also clarify that the bill's provisions would apply in any waters of the State, whether marine, fresh, or brackish. This bill is necessary to keep the State in compliance with federal restrictions concerning the taking of striped bass imposed through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
So, do we just wait and watch as the Senate resumes its duties after recess? Nope. Groups like the RFA are hoping to soon meet with the man who heads up the Environmental Committee, Senator Bob Smith. RFA is hoping Smith will pen a ?letter of intent? to the secretaries of Commerce and the Interior. Much like the letters from the congressman, the letter will assure that compliance is just around the Legislative corner.
There is also some grass-root level maneuvering to contact various state senators, motivating them to take the striper issue seriously since there isn?t a political district in the state that doesn?t have a slew of striper fishermen.
Of note, DEP head Bradley Campbell says the chances are very good that some sort of regs will be in place before ASMFC?s moratorium hammer comes down.
Somewhat disturbingly, our perpetual Senator Connors was contacted but wasn?t willing to give the bass issue more than a sneer saying ?tax issues? were all his offices could handle. If you want to offer the good senator a word or two about why he should take anglers seriously, his office number is (609) 693-6700; fax number is (609) 693-2469.
I should note that it isn?t just the RFA working toward the bass laws but virtually every major player is out stumping, including Tom Fote with JCAA.
It is time to fully activate the angler response network. A gush of irate calls from angler constituents would be a rude wake-up call to any significant foot dragging by any senator.
Back to that aforementioned zonal concept.
The RFA is exploring the possibility of creating striped bass zones in Jersey. It is just a seed of an idea, one the RFA hopes will evoke angler input.
Under the zone concept, certain pre-designated areas would be for the taking of a slot fish (a favorite South Jersey thing) and a bass over 34 inches. Other zones would be for bassers seeking two fish over 28 inches (North Jersey all the way)
Since both of those options comply with ASMFC mandates, there is no reason the Commission would mind this split usage.
Anglers will probably knee-jerk negatively, saying it?s all too complex. However, sportsmen have already adjusted to deer and duck hunting parameters that are far more intricate.