For offshore fishermen, this week’s Council meeting in New Jersey is a fairly important one; on Wednesday, April 12, in addition to the movement of golden tilefish specifications (9:15 a.m.) and blueline tilefish specifications (11 a.m.), the Council will also review a proposal by the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium to turn the Hudson Canyon until a National Marine Sanctuary.
In 2015, Council approved comprehensive deep sea coral protection in the submarine canyons along the Continental Shelf which included the Hudson Canyon.
As highlighted in the November and December editions of The Fisherman Magazine in New Jersey, the same organizations which helped secure stakeholder support for the so-called Frank R. Lautenberg Deep Sea Coral Protection Area pledged not to not go after national marine sanctuary designation so long as their long desired deep sea coral protections were enacted by Council.
Regrettably, after working to develop very specific gear restrictions with stakeholders through a transparent council process, once President Obama designated the New England national monument in 2016, some of these very same organizations and community-based campaigns moved forward with their original plans to get the Hudson Canyon turned into an official National Marine Sanctuary.
Claiming support from 17,700 people who signed an online petition and pledging to support continued fishing access at a Hudson Canyon, Wildlife Conservation Society Vice President and Director of the New York Aquarium Jon Forrest Dohlin said “giving the Hudson Canyon sanctuary status will help marine life thrive for generations to come, while also ensuring a robust fishing area for both commercial and recreational fisheries.”
Having fought against these efforts since the mid 1990’s, the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) believes it’s the law itself that will give sanctuary managers final legal authority over fishing, and not what they called “empty promises” by the aquarium leaders. “One only needs to look to our unfortunate friends on the west coast and how the partnership between the State of California and the Packard Foundation to fund the Marine Life Protection Act worked out for fishermen,” said RFA executive director Jim Donofrio.
“This is a dangerous situation,” Donofrio said.
The actual law that guides the national marine sanctuaries process says it’s unlawful for any person to “destroy, cause the loss of, or injure any sanctuary resource managed under law or regulations for that sanctuary,” with a sanctuary resource defined as “any living or nonliving resource of a national marine sanctuary that contributes to the conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, educational, cultural, archaeological, scientific, or aesthetic value of the sanctuary.”
So while the non-profit Wildlife Conservation Society and its New York Aquarium staff pledge that recreational fishing will still be allowed, that decision would ultimately be up to future administrations and government appointed panels to decide, as per existing federal sanctuary law.
“This has to be defeated,” said John Nappo of Trophy Tackle in New York who spoke to The Fisherman Magazine about this proposal last fall. “I feel betrayed to be honest,” Nappo said of his previous dealings with representatives of the Wildlife Conservation Society and New York Aquarium. “I was given assurances that if the deep water corals were protected by NOAA in an agreement with the Mid-Atlantic council things like the Monument designation would be off the table.”
“We are not on a slippery slope, we are on the edge looking into the abyss,” Nappo added.