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NJOA News Artificial Reefs: "Pay and NO Play?".

by Anthony Mauro Sr

Allow Recreational Anglers Access to Artificial Reefs!

BACKGROUND: There's a new term being bandied about by nearly 1,000,000 anglers that are either New Jersey residents or travel to the Garden State to fish, they call it Pay and No Play.

To be clear, Pay and No Play does not reverse the contentious practice of granting exclusive privileges found in "Pay to Play." Rather, the definition of Pay and No Play is when recreational anglers pay a federal tax included in the price of fishing supplies, a portion of which goes towards the maintenance of artificial reefs, but unbelievably, are obstructed from freely using these reefs. 

Here's how it works; recreational anglers must pay a tax on fishing supply purchases under the Sport Fish Restoration Act, as amended by Wallop-Breux. The federal government collects the tax and is required to give a portion back to New Jersey, partly for the maintenance of artificial reefs and use for recreational angling. However, in the waters off of the Jersey shore commercial fishing interests (commercial fishermen don't pay the tax) heap their fixed gear (fish pots, lobster traps, lines, etc.) onto the artificial reefs. The gear not only catches the bounty of the sea but obstructs recreational anglers from accessing the very reefs they pay taxes to build and maintain.

If the reader is inclined to see Pay and No Pay as an injustice so too does the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. In fact, in 2005 the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection responded to numerous complaints from the recreational angling community about the commercial gear causing lost rigs, snapped lines and snagged anchors and determined there were high levels of commercial gear creating these problems. As a result, the department supports pending legislation that restricts fishing on artificial reefs to hook-and-line and spear.

The federal government appears to agree with the NJ DEP. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has written New Jersey Outdoor Alliance council members and stated that the grant monies given to New Jersey for reef maintenance need to be consistent with the grant objectives, which includes providing increased fishing opportunity to recreational anglers using hook-line and spear. This supports the purpose of the artificial reefs, which is to provide economic benefits to New Jersey's sport fishing industry.

Notably, federal regulations and U.S. Fish and Wildlife policy states that use of artificial reefs exclusively for commercial purposes is not an eligible activity for artificial reef funding. Additionally, all or a portion of the funds that New Jersey receives annually from the federal government may be at risk if it is determined that recreational anglers are being denied access to artificial reefs. The federal government could assess retroactive penalties for all of the years New Jersey has been found out of compliance with regulations and policy.

It seems that the federal government and NJ DEP support New Jersey doing away with the practice of Pay and No Play. The New Jersey Outdoor Alliance and its council of 19 prominent outdoor organizations agree. We view the situation no differently than if "We the people" were obstructed from using state parks because corporations decided to establish their businesses on these properties and their operations created obstructions to unfettered pubic access.

New Jerseyans have shown overwhelming support for public access issues and are rightfully outraged at the wrongness being perpetrated on the state's recreational angling community.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: It's time to put an end to the injustice of taxing the recreational angling community for the purchase and maintenance of something they are obstructed from using. It's time for New Jersey to comply with the intent of the Sport Fish Restoration Act and ensure that we don't lose federal funding for building and maintaining our artificial reefs. It's time to end the practice of Pay and No Play on artificial reefs. 

Please take a moment and go to the following link and send a prewritten letter to Governor Christie, Senate President Sweeney and Speaker Oliver showing you're support for unfettered access to artificial reefs. It only takes a click of your mouse. Click on the link, scroll to the bottom and click on Take Action Now. Then follow the simple directions.

The author is Chair New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, New Jersey Outdoor Alliance Conservation Foundation,New Jersey Outdoor Alliance Environmental Projects      

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