I know, some of you don’t like mixing fishing and politics, I get it! So, if you prefer not to learn how our fish sausages are made, by all means ignore the next 600 words.
The truth is our saltwater fisheries are managed by politicians and their appointees, from state councilors to those tabbed by governors to speak on behalf of the fish, fishermen and fishing industry at the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council or Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
Fish, fishermen and fishing industry, three pieces of the conservation pie that, by law, must be properly balanced. For all intents and purposes, this socioeconomic system of coastal fisheries management was built on the backbone of the 1976 Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act, known simply as Magnuson-Stevens in honor of Congressman Warren Magnuson and Senator Ted Stevens, the legislators who moved the bill through the proper Committees on Capitol Hill.
Funny story; I once heard former Rep. Barney Frank explain how fellow Massachusetts representative Gerry Studds helped draft that hallmark 1976 legislation with Alaska congressman Don Young; thus according to Rep. Frank our federal fisheries law should’ve forever been known as Young-Studds! Magnuson-Stevens was reauthorized in 1996 and again in 2006 with new legalese designed to protect the fish. Of course, the way the political pendulum swings, many feel the law could do a better job of also recognizing fishermen in the equation.
The Committee assignments that occur with every new Congress are very important when it comes to how coastal fisheries are managed. I’ve heard very few anglers say they love the way regulations come about; the fact that saltwater anglers fight each other every year over “status quo” fluke scraps, or that the biomass of black sea bass is twice its target size yet the season never increases, both being great example of the political frustration.
So when you’re not happy with laws and regulations, what do you do? Of course, you write your congressman! Regrettably for New Jersey and Delaware anglers, there aren’t any members of Congress actually involved in the fisheries committees on Capitol Hill. The 117th Congress convened for 2021, with democrats in control of the House, Senate and all of the respective congressional Committees for at least the next 2 years. And as it stands, there are zero members from Delaware or New Jersey on the House Committee on Natural Resources where Magnuson-Stevens and other fisheries-related legislation gets devised, debated and ultimately delivered as law.
There is one democrat from Pennsylvania (Matt Cartwright), and two democrats from New York (Nydia M. Velázquez and Paul Tonko); but there are also nine members – seven democrats and two republicans – from California! Out of 46 total members of the House Committee responsible for regulating fish, fishermen and the fishing industry in 50 states, Californians comprise nearly 20% and there’s nary a single representative from New Jersey.
Historically, the Garden State has always had a fisheries champion of sorts on that Committee, republican or democrat – the names Edwin B. Forsythe, Jim Saxton, Robert Torricelli, John Adler, Jon Runyan, Tom MacArthur and Frank Pallone come to mind. I know, many Delawareans are saying “yeah, but we’ve got a hometown guy in the White House,” and that should be a cause for local optimism. But for those who don’t mind mixing politics and fishing, the painfully obvious takeaway is this – when it comes to the fish, fishermen and our recreational fishing industry, Californians hold the majority in deciding how our Atlantic coastal fisheries are managed under federal law.
How’s that tofu fish sausage taste now? Suffice to say, if we ever expect fluke and sea bass regulations to improve, we’ll need a few Young Studds from New Jersey down there on Capitol Hill where the scraps are created.