On Sunday, October 30, the Asbury Park Press ran the following opinion piece – with a couple of edits – that I wrote under the headline “NJ MIA at Marine Fisheries Meeting.” On Thursday, November 3 I learned that Governor Murphy had finally appointed New Jersey State Senator Vin Gopal to the state’s legislative representative at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Suffice to say, it was about time. God bless the power of the press! -JH
From November 7-10, New Jersey has the honor of hosting the “Annual Meeting” of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), something that happens maybe once every 10 years. At this meeting at the Ocean Place Resort in Long Branch, ASMFC members will elect a chair and vice chair to serve until successors are duly elected next year, while setting a plan of action for 2023.
For over 80 years, ASMFC has served as a deliberative body of Atlantic coastal states, coordinating conservation and management of 27 nearshore fish species Each state is represented at ASMFC by three commissioners, one member of the state’s marine fisheries management agency, a state legislator, and an individual appointed by the governor to represent stakeholder interests. Embarrassingly, New Jersey can only send two representatives to this important meeting, most likely Joseph Cimino as Marine Fisheries Administrator at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), along with longtime governor’s appointee Tom Fote.
Unfortunately, the legislative position has been left vacant ever since Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling’s lost in last year’s election. The appointment of a legislative successor is the responsibility of Governor Phil Murphy and must be approved by the state senate. With no legislator to represent us at the ASMFC, Capt. Adam Nowalsky – the most recent legislative proxy – has no one to proxy. To make matters worse, Governor Murphy and the DEP are currently soliciting applications to replace Fote as governor’s appointee.
It’s been widely speculated that the commercial fishing sector desires one of those two seats, resulting in a full court political press to have their own hand-picked representative appointed either as Governor Murphy’s right hand or as proxy to a still yet-to-be-named state legislator; it’s what I’d call a “nuclear option” in that the entire process has been blown apart to force a political decision, one which has yet to be made.
New Jersey State Senator Vin Gopal, a democrat from Long Branch, is the legislator most often talked about being tabbed next legislative rep on the commission. The fact that the ASMFC meeting is being held in Senator Gopal’s own district should come as further embarrassment to coastal stakeholders.
This issue was brought before a July 14th meeting of the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council, another advisory body that’s also been short gubernatorial appointments for nearly 2 years. “The governor has put out a policy, maybe in the form of an executive order actually, that there’s this interest in diversifying all council and committees,” said DEP Assistant Commissioner David Golden in response, adding “We’re being asked to follow through this directive that has come down to attempt to diversify committees and councils.”
I don’t know if this is “woke” or “unwoke” of me to point out, but Senator Gopal is the first Indian-American ever elected to New Jersey’s state senate. So is “diversity” really the issue here? Or is it just the governor’s own “divisiveness” in pitting commercial fishing interests against those on the recreational side?
Either way, New Jersey’s entire saltwater fishing community is being abandoned by state leaders, a fact that will be on grand display for all other Atlantic Coast states on November 7, on our own home turf.