By Anthony P .Mauro, Sr copyright (c) 2012
It’s been nearly a year since I last wrote about the precipitous decline in New Jersey’s fisheries management capabilities, and the trend continues unabated.
Last year it was a free registry that prompted many people to examine the ruinous underfunding of the Bureau of Marine Fisheries (BMF) and this year it is the closure of the river herring fishery.
According to “The Economic Contribution of Marine Angler Expenditures in the United States”, a report prepared by NOAA Fisheries for the US Department of Commerce, marine recreational fishing in New Jersey is an industry that generates sales of $1.6 billion, provides total tax revenue of $242 million and New Jersey tax revenue in excess of $100 million. In fact, fishing supports 10,000 jobs and provides the highest sales, income and employment of the Northeast region, as well as the highest tax revenues. Fishing also supports a tourism industry worth $16 billion.
Saltwater fishing is not only a recreational and economic engine for New Jersey; anglers and their disposable income are the source of essential conservation initiatives. It is the BMF that is responsible for the administration of marine fisheries management programs that include 127 miles of Atlantic coast and 83 miles of bayshore. The purpose of the bureau is to protect, conserve and enhance marine fisheries resources and their habitat.
With such an important and high profile contribution to New Jersey’s socioeconomic well-being and environmental health one would be forgiven for thinking that the BMF is a formidable competitor for state budget appropriations and is given priority for its potential to expand state revenues.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
Incredibly, BMF operates on an appropriated budget that is less than $2 million while multiple coastal states have budgets that exceed $20 million. New Jersey currently ranks last in total State Marine funding per angler among every Atlantic Coast State. Since 1988, the Bureau’s appropriated budget has increased only by the inflation factor and not in real terms and at the same time federally mandated Fisheries Management Plans (FMPs) have increased from one (1) in 1988 to 22 in 2009.
In a recent New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection announcement of the shutdown of the river herring fishery blame was assigned to inadequate resources to prove that the fishery was sustainable to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. This deficit should concern us since it may be cause for future fishery closures given that New Jersey competes with Atlantic Coast States that are in a better position to justify coast-wide fisheries quotas.
Metaphorically speaking, the tacit message sent by policy makers and legislators has been clear; let the house burn. The metaphorical house is the Bureau of Marine Fisheries. The arsonist in this figure of speech is the angling community that has lit the flame with apathy and fear.
My definition of the angling community includes the individual angler that has refused to hold our state government accountable for adequately funding BMF, and saltwater fishing organizations that have allowed the situation to dilapidate in order to avoid the conflict that will be created by addressing the problem – conflict that might cause a potential loss in membership rolls and associated fees. However, to let the house burn makes both government representatives and the angling community accomplices in negligence.
During the past decade attrition and the forfeiture of institutional knowledge has crippled BMF and it might take an equal number of years to reverse. While finding a solution to funding BMF may be difficult the first course of action is clear – it will take an honest assessment of the problem and the development of a viable solution. To accomplish the task requires angler involvement, leadership from saltwater organizations like the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance and all 23 NJOA (CF) council members including NJSFSC and JCAA, and the courage to do the right thing.
I think it is appropriate to end this commentary with a quote from Izaac Walton, renown for celebrating the art and spirit of fishing, “Rivers and the inhabitants of the watery elements are made for wise men to contemplate and for fools to pass by without consideration.”
About: Anthony P. Mauro, Sr, (also known as “Ant” to friends and associates) is Chairman and co-founder of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, New Jersey Outdoor Alliance Conservation Foundation, and New Jersey Outdoor Alliance Environmental Projects. Ant's commitment to the principles of sustainable use of natural resources and environmental stewardship helped to create the New Jersey Angling & Hunting Conservation Caucus (NJA&HC). The NJA&HC is the first outdoor caucus of its kind in New Jersey and is designed to educate opinion leaders and policy makers about the principles of conservation; the foundation for healthy ecosystems, fish and wildlife.