Editor’s Log: A Broken Record - The Fisherman

Editor’s Log: A Broken Record

The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council (Council) will meet next Thursday, May 11 at 5 p.m. at the Stafford Township Administrative Building at 260 East Bay Avenue in Manahawkin.  Instructions for attending online, along with agenda and previous meeting minutes, will be posted at dep.nj.gov/njfw/marine-council-meetings.

As I’ve written here at The Fisherman – over and over and over again – the Council has two vacancies going back 3 years, one a member of the sportfish community, the second an “at large” member of the public.  This time last year I’d made multiple attempts to contact the governor’s office directly about the empty seats, only to receive the following euphemistic response:

We will not be commenting further at this time.”

In the summer of 2022, the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife sent an email seeking applicants for these seats.  Fast-forward to the first Council meeting of 2023 where the official minutes of the January 5 meeting state “Applications for the two vacant positions have been received and are under review to develop a recommendation to the Governor’s office.” While also noting that not many applications were received, the minutes stated “It is hoped that the vacancies will be filled by the March meeting.” Suffice to say, the March meeting came and went, and the vacancies were not filled.

Jeff Brust with the Bureau of Marine Fisheries told the Council on January 5th that he personally looked over the applications in the governor’s office, and has made his own recommendations.  “I’ve reviewed them,” Brust said, adding “whether the governor and the senate listen to our recommendation or not is up to them.”

Marine fisheries is not the only public advisory panel neglected by Governor Phil Murphy’s administration.  The New Jersey Fish and Game Council was created by law in 1945 (N.J.S.A.13:1B-24) and is tasked with overseeing Division of Fish & Wildlife operations and ultimately appointing a Director of Fish & Wildlife.  That council also has two “sportsman” seats vacant, while public vacancies also exist at the Atlantic Coast Shellfish Council, Delaware Bay Shellfish Council, and Wildlife Rehabilitators Advisory Committee.

For my first 17 years in this business, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife hosted an outdoor writer’s workshop every spring at their Central Region Office at Assunpink.  It’s always provided a good opportunity for hunting and fishing writers to meet with biologists, managers, enforcement folks and commissioners in one central location to review annual initiatives relevant to our readers.  That annual event aimed at connecting the state’s hunters and anglers with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and its divisional staffers was ultimately terminated by Governor Murphy early in his first term due to COVID.

Rumor was that the annual outdoor writers’ workshop ceases to exist because there are so few of us hunting and fishing writers left in the Garden State, though I did receive an email in April from a Division of Fish & Wildlife staffer about the possible return of the workshop this spring.  If that happens, I would hope that the DEP Commissioner himself attends the workshop – as others before him have – to personally address the further erosion of the public’s participation in and perception of the management process over the past 5 years.

The fact is that the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council was established by state law in 1979, in part to “Encourage citizen participation through advisory councils and otherwise, since decisions concerning the distribution and allocation of fisheries resources have important consequences for all citizens of this State.”

So I’d ask you, is Governor Murphy actually violating state law, and would that make high-ranking officials at the DEP accessories to a crime against the citizen anglers of New Jersey?  That’s a question I’d like to see answered in Assunpink!