Friday, February 08, 2008

Big ship, big opportunity

By John Geiser
February 08, 2008

The state Department of Environmental Protection has an opportunity to make an enormous contribution to recreational fishing, if it acts in the next few days.

New Jersey has a chance to obtain the Navy's 560-foot destroyer U.S.S. Radford as an addition to the state's artificial reef system, but it must file for acquisition by Feb. 13.

Bill Figley, former head of the state's artificial reef system, said the big vessel would be a valuable addition to the system.

He said the Radford is presently docked at the Navy's shipyard in Philadelphia, and will be made available for reef-building purposes. Other states also want to obtain the vessel.

"It would be a shame to see this valuable asset towed to another state when it's right in our backyard," he said.

The Democratic leadership of the state Assembly refused in January to post a bill that would have helped recreational fishing by prohibiting the placing of pots and traps on the state's artificial reefs.

This would be a good opportunity for the Corzine administration to make up for the Assembly's failure to help recreational fishing.

Capt. Pete Grimbilas of Reef Rescue, an organization dedicated to getting the commercial gear off the reefs built with anglers' money, said the destroyer would be a big plus for the reef system.

"This offers New Jersey a unique opportunity to enhance its marine environment, provide an extensive new fishing wreck for anglers, and create a sensational underwater attraction for divers," he said.

"The Radford would be the largest ship ever deployed by the DEP's reef program (and) it would also be the first warship," he added.

John J. Toth, president of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, wrote Lisa Jackson, commissioner of the DEP, urging her to use the power of her office to secure the Radford for reef-building purposes.

"This ship . . would be an ideal addition to our state's artificial reef program," he said. "Its huge structure would attract a correspondingly huge abundance of marine life and greatly enhance New Jersey's artificial reef program, which already is the envy of many coastal states."

Toth pointed out that the marine life that would be attracted to the vessel would enhance the marine environment for scuba divers and anglers.

"Residents and non-residents of our state using this vessel for diving and fishing would also benefit the local economy through their purchase of gas, meals, and diving and fishing gear," he continued.

Toth said the JCAA's membership unanimously passed a motion Jan. 29 to request the state to acquire the Radford.

"Since it would benefit all of the 1.3 million saltwater anglers and divers in our state, we strongly urge you (Jackson) to acquire the U.S.S. Radford for our artificial reef program," he added.

James A. Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, said that organization also supports acquisition of the warship for the reef system.

"Other states have gotten large Navy ships recently, and this would be a real addition to New Jersey's reef system," he said.

Florida, California and Texas have all sunk large Navy vessels on their reef systems with success.

The aircraft carrier Oriskany was sunk in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast, and local charter and sight-seeing boats were booked immediately for the event as well as fishing and diving on the vessel months later.

Donofrio has been working with Reef Rescue in a new attempt to get commercial gear off the reefs along the state's coastline. Legislation has been introduced in both houses of the state Legislature, but hearings have not been scheduled yet.

Many donors to the state's artificial reef system were disappointed when the Assembly failed to deliver passage of the trap bill in January, and left some reefs monopolized by commercial gear.

Randy Roash, president of the Strathmere Fishing and Environmental Club, said his club decided to take a stand as other clubs have promised.

"The Strathmere Fishing and Environmental Club voted unanimously to suspend temporarily funding for the New Jersey artificial reef program," he said. "This vote reflects our disappointment in the New Jersey Assembly tabling legislation that would have addressed fish traps monopolizing our artificial reefs."

Roash pointed out that the club has supported both the Ocean City Artificial Reef and the Townsend Inlet reef through donations of time, public and member education and approximately $8,000 in donations.

"SFEC currently has $7,000 earmarked for future New Jersey artificial reef programs," he said. "Those funds are temporarily frozen until the pots-off-the-reefs legislation moves through both the Senate and the Assembly in a manner that represents a full and fair discussion."

Roash said the club firmly supports long-time partner in reef development Bill Figley when he says the reefs were designed for the public, resident and non-resident, to fish with hook and line.

"They were not designed to be monoolized by highly efficient trap-fishing gear," he concluded.



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