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Pallone Defends Striped Bass Fishing Moratorium at House Fisheries Hearing

Location: Washington, DC


U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), the ranking Democrat on the Fisheries and Oceans Subcommittee, made the following statement today at a Subcommittee hearing on Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation and Management. The hearing, held at Pallone's request, focused on whether the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) should remain closed to striped bass fishing.

National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Director William Hogarth testified during the hearing that his agency was likely to decide within six weeks whether to proceed with regulations that would reopen the EEZ. Other witnesses at the hearing included Tom Fote of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association and Jim Donofrio of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, both of whom joined Pallone in calling for a continuation of the moratorium on striped bass fishing in the EEZ.

"Mr. Chairman, let me first express my sincere thanks to you and Chairman Richard Pombo for holding this hearing on an issue that is important to fishermen all along the East Coast, especially in New Jersey.

"Ask almost any fisherman around here and you will soon realize that the Atlantic striped bass is a fish like no other. This is a fish with serious fight in it, and one that can be caught in rivers and bays, by surfcasting, and in the open ocean. On the dinner table, this is an incredibly prized fish because of its delicate, flaky texture.

"And because of the passion fishermen feel about striped bass, it has an impressive economic impact. This one fishery is estimated to be worth more than $6 billion annually and supports over 60,000 jobs up and down the East Coast.

"But this is also a fish that is quite vulnerable to depletion from overfishing and other factors. In fact, the stock collapsed in the 1980s after going from 15 million pounds in 1973 to a low of 3.5 million pounds in 1983. In response to the collapse, Congress passed the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act and many states closed their commercial fisheries. In 1990, the Secretary of Commerce placed a moratorium on commercial harvesting of striped bass from the EEZ.

"To continue these protections, I've introduced H.R. 2059, a bill that would prohibit the commercial harvesting of striped bass in coastal waters and in the EEZ. This bill is a recognition of the fact that striped bass are simply not suited for commercial harvesting and should be conserved as best as possible.

"That's why I was alarmed in February 2003 to hear that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted to recommend that the EEZ be opened again to fishing for striped bass. I want to emphasize, however, that this decision was opposed by the majority of states and only passed after the Administration's two representatives on the Commission voted in favor of the proposal.

"It's no surprise that a majority of the states opposed this move, because it is a risky endeavor that could easily backfire. For recreational anglers who currently fish for striped bass and face strong restrictions including tight size and bag limits, opening up the EEZ is a puzzling move.

"New Jersey's fishermen, for example, are only allowed to keep two fish over 28 inches long, a dramatic change from the 1970s, when they could keep 10 fish over 18 inches long. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has even prohibited anglers from landing so-called "slot" fish from 24 to 28 inches long -- yet at the same time they want to greatly increase pressure on the stock? This simply makes no sense to anglers in my district.

"Opening up the EEZ would also put serious pressure on large breeder fish that are critical to maintaining healthy stock levels and are more likely to live in the EEZ. NMFS and others have said that we can avoid future collapse or other disasters in the fishery by monitoring stock levels and taking appropriate measures, but we simply do not have accurate enough real-time data to be able to make those kinds of management decisions reliably.

"Finally, I am concerned that opening up the EEZ to striped bass fishing could disrupt individual state management practices and create a "black market" for the fish. It would be extremely difficult for states like New Jersey, which regulate striped bass as a game fish, to enforce their regulations when boat operators could claim that fish brought in to docks were caught in the EEZ and not in state waters.

"I am looking forward to a healthy discussion of this issue with our witnesses, including Dr. Hogarth from NMFS and Tom Fote and Jim Donofrio, whose organizations represent a large number of recreational fishermen in my home state and have a great deal of experience with this particular fish.

"Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing, and I look forward to working with you on this issue."

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