Monday, March 10, 2008

Red Knot Update: S1331 Reported Out of Committee

The NJ Senate Environment Committee approved legislation to impose an indefinite moratorium on harvesting horseshoe crabs. The moratorium would continue until the red knot population has fully recovered, or until the state DEP determines that there is a sufficient density of horseshoe crab eggs to sustain both the red knot and the horseshoe crab populations.

The bill faced some opposition within the committee because some members felt that the fines were too high.

After hearing fishermen warn that a $10,000 fine for taking horseshoe crabs could have ruinous consequence for watermen who catch crabs by accident, committee members agreed they will follow up bill S-1331 with a measure to reduce the prescribed fine. But committee chairman Sen. Robert Smith, D-Gloucester, said he would not delay the bill further so it can be passed by the full Senate this month.
The Asbury Park Press misidentified the committee chair's home county. (Gloucester, Middlesex, same thing....)
"Normally I wouldn't even allow a bill to go forward'' with such a level of concern over
penalties, Smith said. But environmental activists have mounted an intense campaign in support of the state Department of Environmental Protection, which wants to maintain the two-year-old crabbing moratorium....

"I know where the popularity is. I know where the numbers are,'' said committee vice chair Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, who voted grudingly to release the bill but called for an amendment to lower the fines, which could reach $25,000 for repeat offenders....

Maya K. van Rossum of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network argued the legislation is worded so that "possession and use'' are the criteria for finding someone in violation, but Van Drew said that wording is unclear in the Senate version. He and Sen. Christoper "Kip' Bateman, R-Somerset, said they would seek a follow-on amendment to lower the penalties.
A $10,000 fine does seem rather steep, so the concern may be legitimate. A fisherman who testified at the hearing claimed that sometimes horseshoe crabs turn up as bycatch in fishing nets. I am not sure how often that happens or how likely it would be to be prosecuted. The scenario sounds plausible, so the law should be written to exclude it.

S1331 and its companion A2260 now need to be approved by the full Senate and Assembly.