Prime Fishing Areas

What Are Prime Fishing Areas?

New Jersey is home to a diverse array of coastal and marine wildlife and habitats. So much so that the state agency in charge of protecting and managing the state’s coastal resources has identified a set of special areas. These areas are so naturally valuable, important for human use, hazardous, sensitive to impact, or particular in their planning requirements that they require individualized, focused attention. Prime Fishing Areas (PFAs) are one important type of New Jersey’s special areas.

PFAs include tidal water areas and water’s edge areas which have a demonstrable history of supporting a significant local intensity of recreational or commercial fishing activity and include:

  • coastal jetties, groins, public fishing piers or docks and artificial reefs,
  • features such as rock outcroppings, sand ridges or lumps, rough bottoms,
  • aggregates such as cobblestones, coral, shell and tubeworms; and
  • slough areas and offshore canyons.

Over time the state has mapped some named prime fishing areas. This means there are both identified PFAs found on a (now) digitized map and unidentified areas that fall within the PFA definition but are not mapped.

Click image to enlarge

New Jersey gives Prime Fishing Areas special legal protection. Prime fishing areas are protected because they are special places of congregation for many species of finfish, shellfish, and diverse invertebrate species that are essential to marine ecosystem functioning. These areas are also heavily used by recreational and commercial fishermen.

There are both permitted and prohibited uses within PFAs. Permitted uses include recreational and commercial fishing and shellfishing, scuba diving and other water related recreational activities. Prohibited uses include sand or gravel mining that would significantly alter the fishery productivity of the area.

Black sea bass

Black sea bass caught off the Jersey Shore (ALS).

Sand mined off the Jersey Shore is used for beach replenishment (J. Gattuso).

While New Jersey has identified the need to protect PFAs, and identified uses that are both permitted and prohibited within PFAs, it has not created rules around whether a prohibited activity like sand mining would have a significant impact. The impact is measured in how the use would change the PFA’s productivity for fish, finfish, and invertebrates. This leaves such decisions to the best professional judgment of agency staff who review the impact of a potential activity in or near a PFA.

Anglers have a wealth of real-time information about Prime Fishing Areas. Through discussions and meetings anglers discussed with us the past, present, and future state of recreational fishing and the special places they fish in given the increasing footprint of Mid-Atlantic offshore wind energy development and sand mining.

See our report to learn more about recreational anglers’ knowledge and concerns around mapped PFAs and competing ocean uses.

Angler Insight

“Anglers are often removed from planning processes where their knowledge would be most valuable. There’s a need to engage recreational fishermen as stakeholders.”