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NJ Conservation Officers Net Eight Anglers for Illegally Taking and Selling River Herring

May 7, 2009

Capping a lengthy undercover investigation, Conservation Officers with the Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife have cited eight people for illegally taking and selling river herring from South Jersey waters. Fishermen are allowed to take up to 35 herring per day, but are not allowed to possess more than 35 herring at one time, or sell herring, unless they hold certain commercial fishing licenses.

Herring are anadromous fish, meaning they live in saltwater, but return to fresh water to spawn in the spring. In recent years, herring migrations have precipitously declined, raising concern and prompting regulatory action by federal and state government. Since Colonial times, many populations of blueback herring and alewife, collectively known as river herring, have faced threats from commercial and recreational fishing, habitat loss from dam construction, silt and pollution – among others.

The National Marine Fisheries Service identified a 90 percent decline in commercial landings of herring between 1985 and 2004, and those numbers have continued to decrease. The closure of river herring fisheries by Atlantic coastal states -- including Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Virginia and North Carolina -- and documented declines in river herring abundance have raised questions about the adequacy of current management of the species to promote healthy fish stocks.

Given the circumstances, the Delaware River Basin Fish & Wildlife Management Cooperative’s Fisheries Technical Committee in 2008 took regulatory steps to reduce the current daily limit of 35 river herring to 10. If approved in Pennsylvania, the regulation would take effect in 2010. A regulation to reduce the herring limit to 10 is also proposed for New Jersey’s fresh waters and would require anglers wishing to possess more than 10 fish to produce a receipt proving that they purchased the extra herring.

The seriousness of the decline is also reflected by a May 7 Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission approval of an amendment to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for river herring. The amendment prohibits commercial and recreational fisheries for herring in marine waters beginning Jan. 1, 2012, unless a state or jurisdiction develops and submits for approval a sustainable management plan by Jan. 1, 2010. The amendment defines a sustainable fishery as "a commercial and/or recreational fishery that will not diminish the potential future stock reproduction and recruitment."

During the past several years in New Jersey, amateur harvesters have refined their gear and techniques to boost the size of their catch. However, as conscientious sportsmen witnessed anglers taking more than the 35 herring a day limit, they reported it to the DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife. Through information and surveillance, Conservation Officers learned that hundreds of thousands of herring likely have been illegally taken and sold out of the waters in Atlantic County. Anglers stockpiled many of these fish in holding pens, a violation of New Jersey’s possession limit.

Herring are prized as bait in the increasingly popular recreational striped bass fishery, and at a price tag of up to $5 a piece, the demand and profit incentives has fueled black market commercialization at the expense of the species.

In an effort to help protect this important wildlife resource, plainclothes Conservation Officers worked for more than 14 months alongside herring fishermen in Mays Landing in Atlantic County on the Great Egg Harbor River, and compiled evidence on at least 16 people for taking more than the legal daily limit of herring, having more than the possession limits and for illegally selling herring.

On May 3, Conservation Officers executed search warrants at three locations in Atlantic County, and wrapped up the undercover investigation, led by Lt. Greg Honachefsky by citing eight men with dozens of violations in connection with illegally catching and selling herring. Eight others were apprehended and charged last spring at the start of the investigation. All told, possible penalties for the violations exceed $33,000.

The eight men cited this week are:

  • Peter May, 29, of Hutto, Texas, formerly of Mays Landing, was charged with possession of 350 river herring over the legal limit, unlawful use of a bait seine, and unlawfully screening a river.
  • Thomas Valiante, 49, of Galloway, was charged with possession of 270 river herring over the legal limit, unlawful use of a bait seine, and unlawful screening of a river.
  • Anthony Compton, 37, of Mays Landing, was charged with possession of 37 herring over the legal limit and conspiracy to sell wildlife illegally.
  • Victor Stott, 69, of Barnegat Light, was charged with 25 river herring over the legal limit.
  • Joseph Milza, 52, of Egg Harbor City, was charged with 31 river herring over the legal limit, unlawful sale of wildlife and conspiracy to unlawfully sell or purchase wildlife.
  • Mark Constantino, 19, of Egg Harbor Township, was charged with illegal sale of wildlife.
  • Thomas Vanzant, 24, of Brigantine, was charged with possession of 119 river herring over the legal limit, unlawful sale of wildlife, conspiracy to sell wildlife illegally, and failure to keep required records.
  • John Hoagland, 27, of Egg Harbor Township, was charged with possession of 125 river herring over the legal limit, unlawful sale of wildlife, conspiracy to illegally sell wildlife and failure to keep required records.
To report violations of fish and game laws, call the DEP’s 24-hour hotline at 877-WARN DEP (877- 927-6337). Information can be reported anonymously and will be kept confidential.
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Department of Environmental Protection
P. O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Last Updated: May 7, 2009