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A public discussion on a proposed National Marine Sanctuary in Monmouth County waters will be held at at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 16 at the Red Bank Library, 84 West Front Street in Red Bank.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  March 10, 2016
An initiative to create a Sandy Hook Bay National Marine Sanctuary would add more than 12,500 acres of public-use parkland to eastern Monmouth County, potentially impacting angler access on portions of the Raritan Bay, as well as Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers.

An effort by the Navesink Marine Heritage Association is currently underway to create what has been tabbed a “water-based equivalent of a National Park” which would cover Sandy Hook Bay, the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers and their tributaries.

If enacted by federal authorities, this new Sandy Hook Bay National Marine Sanctuary would add more than 12,500 acres of public-use parkland to eastern Monmouth County, while extending the federal National Park philosophy “in perpetuity” to these local waters.

North Jersey anglers are understandably concerned.

Rik van Hemmen, Vice President of the Navesink Maritime Heritage Association which is helping spearhead this plan told the Atlanticville newspaper that the plan to create a National Marine Sanctuary in Monmouth County would help provide sustainable resource management in the region.

“This National Marine Sanctuary is envisioned to start at the tip of Sandy Hook to the tip of Earle Weapon Center and extend upstream into the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers including tributaries such as the Swimming River,” van Hemmen told the Atlanticville. “We would end up with about 12,500 acres, almost 20 square miles, of public-use parkland to Eastern Monmouth County.”

He said the Sanctuary would aid improvements including fisheries, recreation and habitation; provide a setting that integrates the water with adjoining land-based parks and public access points; and provide a setting for exploration and education.

“There’s been some great work done in open space preservation, and we’re taking a much more predominant role in advocacy for conservation efforts and being that voice, and we have been blessed with the partnerships we have and look forward to building new ones,” van Hemmen said.

While proponents of the National Marine Sanctuary plan are pledging to work with local fishermen on planning elements in Monmouth County, on a national basis the track record isn’t very inclusive, nor is it transparent.

“Under the guise of Our Florida Reefs, a group is recommending closing up to 30 percent of our reefs to fishing,” said Carl Liederman, president of Capt. Harry’s Fishing Supply in Miami. “To the fishing community, the health of our reefs is part of maintaining a sustainable fishery. Many of Our Florida Reefs’ recommendations we can support, but the process is flawed.”

In a recent Miami Herald editorial, Liederman said that the federal government already controls over 2.5 million land and water acres in the state, much of that in South Florida. “Compounding the issue is the fact that no members of the fishing community participated on the working group and no fishery related issues were identified during the process that would justify a need for any closures,” Liederman said.

“Finally and most disturbing is that some of the participants in the group also participated in the process that created all of the closures along the California coast,” Liederman said, while adding “they are participating in this process and advising the working group.”

Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) said local anglers need to be extremely cautious with any promises made by those pledging transparency in the process. “What they promised in the original meetings in California was that it was only going to be a 2% restriction, but what ended up happening is that these environmental groups got close to 23% of waters closed to fishing and that’s had a serious access issue on the west coast.”

"RFA has heard all of these broken promises of no further restrictions touted by the promoters of these areas for years, in California, the Dry Tortugas, Biscayne Bay, Stellwagen Bank,” Donofrio said. “Their real goal is less human activity and less access."

Public discussions and hearings on the proposed National Marine Sanctuary initiative in Sandy Hook Bay, the Navesink and the Shrewsbury will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 13 at the Keyport Yacht Club in Keyport, and at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 16 at the Red Bank Library, 84 West Front Street in Red Bank.

Glenn Arthur, chairman of the New Jersey Council of Diving Clubs has already attended one of the meetings and said several charter boat captains were also in attendance. “All raised the issue of restrictions on fishing,” Arthur said, noting that many concerns have been brought up with regard to the commercial harvest of bunker in both the Raritan Bay and the Navesink River, already managed by federal caps and state restrictions.

“Even the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), which is charged by the state to manage our fish and wildlife resources, was relegated to near obscurity in the process,” Liederman said of the ongoing efforts to essentially deny Florida anglers local access.

RFA’s Donofrio said he doesn’t ever want to see that process move forward in the state of New Jersey as it has elsewhere. “I’ve already had contact with Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno about this initiative, and she was rather surprised that something like this was moving forward without input from the state.”

“As an angler herself from that particular region in question, the Lt. Governor has said she’ll be keeping her eye on this process,” Donofrio said. “So will we, and so should all anglers.”