Fishing: A Way of Life to be Celebrated & Protected

Apr 1, 2012

As a young boy growing up in Rosenhayn, I fondly remember going to my favorite fishing holes whenever I got the chance. I’d go with my dad, my uncles or by myself to sit by the water and dream of reeling in “the big one.” Fishing is a time-honored tradition for many across our region and the country. It is also the economic livelihoods of countless families and communities up and down the U.S. coastline, including New Jersey. However, unlike in decades past, it is the right to fish rather than the fish themselves that is increasingly threatened.

In 2007, Congress reauthorized the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act - the primary statute governing U.S. fisheries. At that time, Congress made clear that science collected by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should dictate decisions regarding annual catch limits for recreational and commercial fishermen. Congress mandated a comprehensive review of the data collection procedures that would have provided more reliable information and science-based decision making. NOAA has ignored Congress’ intent and the review is two years overdue. In the interim, NOAA has arbitrarily closed specific fisheries, such as the black sea bass and summer flounder, without just cause or supporting scientific data.

In setting annual catch limits and accountability measures of our sustainable fisheries, I agree with the Recreational Fishing Alliance that a commitment to conservation can be balanced with consideration for commerce and jobs. South Jersey is home to the second largest commercial port on the East Coast and one of the largest recreational fishing communities in the country. The industry represents an estimated 30,000 jobs and $2 billion in economic output in New Jersey. Thus, when NOAA significantly reduces or outright suspends certain fisheries, it directly threatens that economic activity along with the jobs and families they support.

Restrictions on U.S. fisheries affect not only recreational and commercial fishermen, but charter boat operations, bait & tackle shops, seafood processors, ports, and local communities along the coastal United States and Alaska. Fishing is not only a way of life, but the livelihood of many critical industries in our local, regional and national economy. This fact was underscored by the strong turnout from hundreds of New Jersey and coastal state fishermen and their supporters in Washington at a rally steps from the U.S. Capitol.

At this time, while NOAA places additional restrictions, most U.S. fisheries are stronger than they have been in a generation with 84 percent of fish stocks studied in 2010 not experiencing overfishing. It is clear NOAA is creating and exacerbating an economic problem, not addressing a targeted and specific issue. Therefore, Congress has the opportunity and the obligation to provide clarification to NOAA that will inject flexibility into the decision-making process, yielding both healthy fish stocks and healthy fishing communities. Working with fellow New Jersey Congressmen Frank Pallone and Rob Andrews and more than a dozen of our colleagues from coastal states, we have proposed the “Flexibility and Access in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act” to reform Magnuson-Stevens in a way that keeps our fishermen fishing.

Protecting our fishing industry is a critical issue for South Jersey and the nation’s economy. Critics and Washington bureaucrats argue that the issue is about protecting fish stocks without scientific evidence of them being endangered. In fact, the issue is about the ability for our fishermen to earn a decent living and support their families. As I said at the rally in Washington, we must get NOAA out of our boats and out of our tackle-boxes. If we don’t, South Jersey children and future generations may not know the joys of a summer day at the local waters’ edge with their fishing pole in hand.