With the basement meeting room already full, an overflow crowd gathered on the library’s main floor hoping to be allowed in Wednesday night. Below, the sanctuary would include Sandy Hook Bay, the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers and their tributaries. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
With 75 or so commercial and recreational fishermen, clammers, hunters and others packed into a basement meeting room at the Red Bank Public Library, and a comparable number turned away due to crowding, maritime historian Rik Van Hemmen got a cold reception for his proposal for a Sandy Hook Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which he hopes will win federal approval.
“We’ve got enough layers of bureaucracy,” Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, told Van Hemmen. “This is going down. We’re going to fight it.”
A statement on the website of the Navesink Marine Heritage Association, where Van Hemmen is an officer, compares the proposed sanctuary to a National Park, one that would include Sandy Hook Bay, the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers and smaller waterways.
It would be “a special area with special goals, and “the public gets to set the goals for the sanctuary and to propose the sanctuary designation to congress,” the statement says.
But standing alone at the front of the room, Van Hemmen was repeatedly pressed on the plan’s origins, its rationale and its possible — or likely — unintended consequences.
Objectors said local waterways haven’t been as clean and fruitful as they are now in generations; that fishermen are already overburdened by laws and regulations; and that the plan would result in economic hardship for people who make their living on the water.
Van Hemmen said his interest in the proposal was “cultural,” as in fostering a culture in which young people learn to remove trash from waterways. And there would be no federal regulation that local representatives, chosen or appointed by affected towns, did not want, he said.
But one audience member told Van Hemmen he was “drawing an abstract line” from the goal of clean waterways to the need for a sanctuary.
“You found some trash. Nobody likes to see that,” said the man, whose identity redbankgreen did not learn. “But the connection [to a marine sanctuary] is such a far reach. It doesn’t seem like the juice is worth the squeeze here.”
“We have a history that something like this gets formed, and rights get taken away,” said another speaker.
Van Hemmen said his main goal is “increased yield — more fishing,” but that, too, was met with skepticism.
“It’s not unrealistic for us to believe we could end up with restrictions” that affect livelihoods, said a man who described himself as a retired biologist with the New Jersey Fish & Wildlife agency.
“If [the local fishery] gets shut down, are you going to feed their families?” one audience member demanded.
“All this criticism — I take it as input,” said Van Hemmen, a marine engineer and author who’s held public sessions on the proposal elsewhere in Monmouth County in recent days and said he’s hoping to hold more.