Commercial fishing industry needs more regulatory flexibility, committee told

TRENTON – The Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee took testimony today on issues facing commercial and recreational fishermen in the state.

While there is good news – the Port of Cape May is the No. 2 commercial fishing port on the East Coast – the state’s commercial fishing industry is hampered by a lack of regulatory flexibility, among other issues, the panel was told.

Scot Mackey of the Garden State Seafood Association told the lawmakers that while Cape May has risen two spots from 7th place to 5th place nationally, there was some tragedy involved.

The tsunami that devastated parts of Japan last year is partly responsible for a rise in prices here, Mackey told the panel.

But what he wanted the committee to understand as it collects testimony on issues facing N.J. fishermen is that his association believes an understaffed and underfunded Department of Environmental Protection cannot adjust regulations as quickly as the industry needs.

He used bluefish as one example.

One year the N.J. fishermen caught their quota, so fishing for bluefish was shut down early. But another year by a Nov. 7 fishing season deadline approximately 300,000 pounds of bluefish remained uncaught, and the state is unable to adjust quickly enough and grant commercial fishermen more time to catch more bluefish that year, Mackey said.

And that uncaught amount of fish is not necessarily carried over toward the following year’s quota, he said.

“Other states seem to have more regulatory flexibility than we do,’’ he said.

Some of the issues involve federal regulations, as well, he told the committee, but in general more leeway at the state level could benefit N.J. fishermen.

And what benefits the fishing industry has a ripple effect that boosts the economy of casinos, hotels and motels, and other resorts, he said. “There is a lot of ‘downstream’ benefit,’’ Mackey said.

He also told the committee that it’s important there are people on federal governing bodies who are looking out for New Jersey’s interests. “Other states are trying to get our fish all the time,’’ he said.

The committee was slated to hear from witnesses on different aspects of the industry.

Commercial fishing industry needs more regulatory flexibility, committee told