Horseshoe crab bill held; divisional transfers from DEP to Agriculture discussed

TRENTON – Two bills dealing with administrative transfers of divisions and councils were held from votes at the Assembly Agriculture Committee today. They were up for discussion only.

A bill on lifting the moratorium on horseshoe crab harvesting also was held from a vote in order to have further discussion.

Bills dealing with scallops and snapping turtles were released.

A2762, which would transfer from the Department of Environmental Protection to the Department of Agriculture a group of divisions and councils, was touted by its sponsor.

The entities to be moved include the Division of Fish and Wildlife; the Fish and Game Council; the Marine Fisheries Council; the Shellfisheries Council; and the New Jersey Migratory Waterfowl Advisory Committee.

Assemblyman John Amodeo, whose district is in southern New Jersey, said his region is not getting the attention it deserves, considering it pumps almost $1 billion into the economy.

He said these businesspeople need a department that understands what they go through as opposed to one that he called a “maze’’ of bureaucracy that is impeding growth.

“Streamlining this would help all concerned,’’ he said.

Committee Chair Nelson Albano, also a southern New Jersey lawmaker, said it is important to ensure the state’s aquaculture can flourish.

“They’re trying to hire people, they’re trying to make a living,’’ Albano said, but he said DEP red tape blocks them.

Supporters, including the Garden State Seafood Association, Farm Bureau and the Food Council, said they see Agriculture as more of an advocate for the industries. The Seafood Association decried the gridlock in DEP that is preventing business growth.

Opponents, including the Audubon Society, the American Littoral Society, and the Sierra Club, said that despite DEP’s reduced staffing, they still see that agency as the better supervisor when it comes to protecting species, habitat, and sensitive lands.

The committee heard similar concerns regarding a related bill.

A3376: This bill transfers from the Department of Environmental Protection to the Department of Agriculture several divisions and councils.

They include the New Jersey State Forestry Services; the State Forester; the New Jersey Board of Tree Experts; the Community Forestry Council; the Forest Stewardship Advisory Committee; and the Forest Health Advisory Council.

Sponsor Assemblyman Ronald Dancer said he wants to perfect the bill as much as possible. He said this bill will provide greater environmental protection.

Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club said in opposition the missions of DEP and Agriculture are fundamentally different, and that forests belong under DEP’s supervision because of the issue of protecting wetlands and other sensitive areas.

The horseshoe crab bill was held.

A2653:  This bill would repeal a 2008 law that established a moratorium on the capture of horseshoe crabs in the state. 

State fishermen would once again be allowed to catch horseshoe crabs in an amount that is consistent with the federal horseshoe crab fishing quotas established by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

A613:  This bill, released unanimously, would require the Department of Environmental Protection to undertake an assessment of bay scallops. 

If DEP determines a bay scallop fishery can be sustained, then DEP would adopt regulations.

Scott Mackie of the Garden State Seafood Association said this species was regularly caught in the 1970s, but it “comes and goes,’’ and needs to be studied.

A2248: This bill, advanced unanimously, would establish the regulatory framework regarding the trapping of snapping turtles.

Among other things, it would specify how they could be caught, require trappers to have a permit from the Division of Fish and Wildlife, establish regulations for placement of traps, and require conservation officers to conduct random investigations to enforce compliance.

Horseshoe crab bill held; divisional transfers from DEP to Agriculture discussed