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The confirmation of Wilbur Ross as Commerce Secretary should represent a transition in federal fisheries management in the Trump White House and clears a fluke hurdle in New Jersey for the Christie administration.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  February 28, 2017
Wilbur Ross (left) was officially administered the oath of office at a White House ceremony on Tuesday, with his wife Hilary at his side and presided over by Vice President Mike Pence.

The ongoing fluke fiasco took a critical turn on Monday night when the U.S. Senate confirmed Wilbur L. Ross as the nation’s new Secretary of Commerce. By a vote of 72 to 27, President Trump’s cabinet selection was confirmed to a position that puts him ultimately in charge of overseeing NOAA Fisheries.

Ross has reportedly been advising the president on economic policy and helping craft ways to rewrite the tax code; while the mainstream media focuses on trade issues like NAFTA, the confirmation of Ross as Commerce Secretary should represent a transition in federal fisheries management under the Trump administration and opens the next chapter in the 2017 fight for summer flounder.

Given the state of flux with both fluke and sea bass - with NOAA Fisheries yet to approve the “option five” vote at last month’s Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) meeting in Virginia requiring New Jersey to adopt a three fluke at 19-inch size limit for 128 days - a meeting of the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council originally scheduled for this Thursday in Stafford Township has been postponed.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie has been defiantly hoping to gain Secretary Ross’s support for status quo measures which would leave the 2016 limits in place for another season until new data could be integrated into the NOAA Fisheries decision-making, and thus far refusing to accept the ASMFC vote.

According to Jim Donofrio, executive director at the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), the confirmation of President Trump’s new Commerce Secretary clears a major hurdle in helping get the recreational fishing community’s concerns heard at the federal level.

“A great place to start draining some of that swamp is down in Maryland at Silver Spring,” Donofrio said, referencing the location of NOAA’s headquarters outside of Washington DC. “The ideological appointments of our last president, flooding NOAA Fisheries for eight years with anti-fishing policies, it was bad for fishing, and just shows the need for a major housecleaning operation this spring.”

While the Christie administration has been looking forward to working with Ross as Commerce Secretary to remedy the more draconian fluke restrictions being levied against the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut region, all six Senate representatives in those afflicted states voted against Ross, including the New Jersey delegation of Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, New Yorkers Charles Schumer and Kristen Gillbrand, as well as Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.

The Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard is responsible for legislation and oversight of matters that impact our oceans and coasts including marine fisheries, ocean policy and NOAA. Just before the vote, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the ranking minority member of the full committee urged fellow lawmakers to vote for Ross; while all eight republican members of the subcommittee voted favorably on the Ross nomination, four of the seven democrats on the subcommittee voted against him, including Edward Markey (D-MA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), as well as both Booker and Blumenthal.

In 2015, a bill to amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the primary law governing federal fisheries management, was approved in the House of Representatives by a vote of 237 to 174. A Senate version of the bill failed to pass out of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, and with President Obama pledging to veto the House version of the bill if it reached his desk, the legislation eventually stalled.

The RFA said things had gotten very bad inside the Commerce Department early in the Obama administration with the selection of fisheries chief Jane Lubchenco in 2009, a move that led to the shutdown of black sea bass and the rollout of fleet-reducing catch share programs that harmed the New England cod fishery and shut anglers out of Gulf of Mexico red snapper.

“President Obama simply didn’t get it, which most of our recreational industry realized by 2010 when he was telling folks in a New Hampshire speech that times were indeed tougher in his administration, warning Americans against buying boats or going on vacation,” Donofrio said. “That pretty much sums up eight years of what became our anti-commerce department in the United States.”

Ross was officially administered the oath of office on Tuesday and sworn in as the Secretary of Commerce by Vice President Mike Pence.

Read the letter sent by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and signed by a majority of New Jersey’s congressional delegation to Secretary Commerce following his confirmation, expressing the need to delay any 2017 restrictions placed by the ASMFC.

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