Last December, I wrote about H.R. 3070, a poorly-drafted and even more poorly conceived piece of legislation introduced by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), which would have opened up some federal waters surrounding Block Island to striped bass harvest, and turned such waters over to the states’ jurisdiction with respect to all fisheries matters.
The bill’s primary, and perhaps only substantial support, came from party and charter boat operators on the East End of Long Island, who wanted to target striped bass in areas that, for the last quarter-century or so, have been off-limits to striped bass fishing. When the House Natural Resources Committee held a field hearing on New York on December 7, 2015, only one out of the seven witnesses who testified, Capt. Joe McBride of the Montauk Boatmen’s and Captains’ Association, spoke in favor of the bill.
On the other hand, the legislation ran into substantial opposition from recreational and commercial fishermen in the region. The strongest opposition came from the State of Connecticut, where both state officials and its Congressional delegation went on record in opposition to the bill, largely because of its potential effects on Connecticut commercial fishermen who fish in federal waters that would be affected by the bill.
Recreational fishermen all along the coast also took up arms against Zeldin’s legislation. Stripers Forever, a national organization that advocates for healthy striped bass populations, issued an alert that stated, in part
“Stripers Forever regards this bill as a danger to the health and recovery of wild Atlantic striped bass. Not only will it increase pressure on striped bass stocks, but it sets a bad precedent by ceding federal waters to state control. The water that would be opened to state management—and thus commercial fishing—is well known for attracting large female stripers, the very fish on which the future of the species depends…”
The New Jersey Outdoor Alliance carried an article on its Facebook feed, in opposition to Zeldin’s bill, which began
“Bill HR 3070, sponsored by Representative Zeldin of New York would allow fishing for striped bass in a portion of the EEZ off Montauk and out toward Block Island and Rhode Island. We all know that opening of the EEZ for striped bass would result in more stripers being killed at a time that we are supposed to be conserving them.”
Up in Rhode Island, one of the most directly affected states, the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers’ Association published an editorial entitled “Keep the EEZ closed to striper fishing.” It noted that
“Currently all waters beyond three miles of the shoreline is considered ‘federal waters’ and the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). In 1990 a federal moratorium was created prohibiting fishing for striped bass in the EEZ to protect them from overfishing (especially in the south).
“An attempt to reverse this was tried in 2006, but after receiving over 8,000 public comments supporting the continued closure, NOAA [decided] to keep the closure in place.
“So now another attempt is made to create a special open zone here in our backyard. Bill H.R. 3070 was introduced by Rep. Lee Zeldin from New York and referred to the House Natural Resource Committee…
“What would happen if H.R. 3070 passed? The SW Ledge [off Block Island] would not only be inundated with Rhode Island anglers, but an armada of fishing boats from New York would flood Block Island waters.
“In an article on this subject, John McMurray, an New York Charter Captain who always sides ‘for the fish’ said, ‘The Montauk charter/party boat fleet is arguing that such a regional opening would provide economic benefits’
“’Perhaps it might,’ continued McMurray, ‘But the larger question is whether such potential economic benefits, for what appears to be a narrow special interest, trump the long term health of a public resource.’”
As I said before, the majority of the striped bass angling community was not pleased with the introduction of Rep. Zeldin’s bill...
Thus, there was some dismay in striped bass angling circles when news came out that the House Natural Resources Committee gave its unanimous approval to H.R. 3070.
Speaking personally, I was dismayed, but not surprised, as the current majority of that Committee is usually in favor of anything that provides an economic boon to narrow groups of special interests, while impairing the greater public interest in conserving America’s natural resources. Approving H.R. 3070 would have been just another step taken along the same ill-advised path.
However, things were not as simple as they originally seemed.
It turns out that the only similarity between the legislation debated at last December’s hearing and the one reported out of Committee last week was the bill number. Even the name had changed.
The original version of H.R. 3070 was entitled the “EEZ Clarification Act,” and began by stating that
“For purposes of all Federal laws governing marine fisheries management—
(1) the landward boundary of the exclusive economic zone between the area south of Montauk, New York, and the area south of Point Judith, Rhode Island, shall be considered to be a continuous line running…”
And the boundaries were set forth from there.
The new version of H.R. 3070 was provided not by Rep. Lee Zeldin, but by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ). It is entitled “EEZ Transit Zone Clarification and Access Act,” and begins
“IN GENERAL—The Secretary of Commerce, in consultation with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, may issue regulations to permit and regulate recreational Atlantic striped bass fishing in the Block Island Sound Transit Zone… [emphasis added]”
In other words, the bill has changed from one which threatened to open the EEZ off Block Island to striped bass fishing, and handed all fishery management responsibilities within the proposed boundaries over to the states, into one that does nothing at all.
The key is in the word “may,” which means that the Secretary of Commerce is allowed to amend current regulations to permit striped bass fishing in the so-called “transit zone” between Block Island and the mainland, but only if the Secretary should choose to do so.
And that has always been the case.
The current prohibition on striped bass fishing in the EEZ was imposed by regulation, not by legislation. The National Marine Fisheries Service, a branch of the Commerce Department, considered reopening the EEZ to striped bass fishing in 2006, but ultimately decided that it was the wrong thing to do. Commerce could reopen the question at any time, should it decide to do so.
So all that the current H.R. 3070 does is reaffirm the status quo. The Secretary of Commerce still has the power to open the EEZ to striped bass fishing, and the power to keep the EEZ closed.
Hopefully, the closure will continue, and H.R. 3070 will soon be lost in the mists of obscurity, a fate that it most certainly deserves.
Thank you for passing along this information. I thought I would take a few minutes to offer what I believe is the intent of this legislation (HR-3070). I am a charter boat operator from Point Judith, RI and I spend a great deal of my fishing time in this area.ReplyDelete
To understand the issue that this legislation seeks to address, it is important to consider the migration traits of Striped Bass in this area as well as how the fishery is prosecuted here. I have fished successfully for Striped Bass around Block Island for 25 years and I believe that Striped Bass occupy all the different reefs and ledges along a glacial moraine located between Block Island's S/W corner and Montauk, Long Island. Striped Bass move back and forth between state waters and areas in the transit zone with each tide every day that they are in our area. This link is to a chart of the area http://www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/sustainable/recfishing/regs/blockislandstipedbasstransitareamap.pdf This small 10 mile zone int the transit area offers little protection from harvest as all you need to do is wait for the fish to move around. Much of the transit area is unsuitable habitat for Striped Bass, but follow a fairly direct line from Montauk to Block Island and you will find 10 miles of productive habitat. Anything Northerly of those reefs is just mud and Striped Bass don't live there.
So I have also dove with Striped Bass on the wrecks of the Idene, the Grecian, and the US Bass and I have caught Striped Bass while targeting others species on the East Grounds, the Mud Hole, and Stellwagon Bank. These areas are all in the EEZ and do offer some safe haven for Striped Bass and I would not support opening non transit areas in the EEZ for any Striped Bass fishing.
The recreational striped bass fishery in the state waters of Block Island and Montauk is small compared to other areas, but it is important to both for hire and private recreational fisherman. I believe the intent of this legislation is simply to improve the recreational Striped Bass fishing experience for those fisherman while not impacting the resource in an undesirable way. HR 3070 clarifies a process where Noaa Fisheries and the ASMFC could be petitioned to consider allowing recreational Striped Bass fishing within this unique transit zone.
Opening up the transit area will spread out the fleet and while fish will be taken from transit area at times, less will be taken from the state waters now heavily fished. This is about improving recreational fishing experiences and allowing recreational charter businesses to operate with a little less stress. The resource is in decent shape and its managed with abundant precaution. Allowing recreational Striped Bass fishing in a small transit area will not jeopardize that success. Thanks for allowing me to offer my side of the issue and i look forward to continued conversation
Capt. Bellavance--Appreciate your perspective. However, I do disagree with some of your points. Yes, the greater Block Island area is relatively small; however, it is near a number of large population areas, and is fished heavily by boats from three different states. The Montauk fleet is particularly large and aggressive with respect to striped bass.Delete
As a Long Island angler who fishes Montauk from time to time, and who knows a number of the captains out there, I disagree with your analysis that has the regulation change merely spreading the effort out; the Montauk boats want access to the EEZ because it will allow them to land more and larger fish, particularly during the summer when bass move onto deeper structure. Most seasons, the increase in harvest might be relatively modest, but it will be an increase nonetheless, and when conditions are right, as they were in the hot bunker bite a couple of years ago, the increase could be substantial.
I note that RISSA, understanding that fact, appears to oppose the original legislation.
However, the greatest danger of HR 3070 isn't the additional fish that will be killed off Block Island, but rather the fact that the bill will represent the first exception to a policy that has been in place for the past quarter-century--a complete moratorium on striped bass harvest in the EEZ. Once one exception is made, we can expect charter boats in Massachusetts to seek access to their offshore bass grounds and boats in Virginia and North Carolina to do the same thing. That would not be good for the striped bass resource.
The EEZ closure has been in place for a quarter-century, and for-hire vessels have managed to conduct their business successfully. There appears to be no compelling reason to open up federal waters off Block Island, when doing so could threaten the coastwide EEZ closure.
Thanks for the thoughtful analysis, Charlie. Always appreciative of your help in sorting this stuff out!ReplyDelete