“Jim, this is Congressman Tom Tiffany from Wisconsin,” said Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs at the American Sportfishing Association (ASA).
I had been walking the floor of ICAST in July with Long Island edition editor Matt Broderick on our way to producing our next New Product Spotlight video for The Fisherman, just as ASA’s VP of government affairs was showing the Wisconsin congressman around the various booths.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Congressman,” I said, extending my hand to greet the representative from the 7th Congressional District of Wisconsin, in Orlando, FL no doubt to learn more about our recreational fishing industry. As a member of the House Natural Resources Committee in Washington Rep. Tiffany has a big role in making sure our marine coastal resources are managed properly in Congress, and that the needs of all stakeholders are accurately represented.
“Jim is the managing editor of the New Jersey, Delaware edition of The Fisherman Magazine congressman,” Leonard pointed out. With a look of surprise, Rep. Tiffany turned to me with a sarcastic grin and asked, “Oh do they have fishing in New Jersey?”
I know the congressman was only joking; heck, New Jersey is everyone’s national punchline. And while I’m not an overly sensitive guy, easily triggered by sardonic slights and offhand innuendo, I’ll admit to being a bit cheesed by the Wisconsin congressman. There were probably a hundred responses I could have offered about the great fishing in the Garden State, but at the end of the day, that’s probably more the responsibility of our own New Jersey congressional delegation (though I’m sure Leonard helped diplomatically fill in a few blanks later).
You see, ASA keeps tabs on tackle industry stats to share with members of Congress, but I know federal data from both the U.S. Department of Interior and Department of Commerce has consistently ranked New Jersey in the top five among coastal states in overall retail sales in saltwater sportfishing with somewhere in the neighborhood of $650 million in total spending on annual saltwater tackle sales. With a total economic impact exceeding $1 billion a year, New Jersey’s marine recreational sportfishing community returns close to $70 million in state and local tax revenue, with over $90 million in federal taxes. In other words, New Jersey anglers send a lot of cheddar to Washington DC through Trenton.
So my immediate response to the congressman was that Wisconsin walleye and Jersey fluke are not really as different as chalk and cheese; regrettably, there are zero New Jersey congressional reps on the House Natural Resources Committee where our coastal fisheries laws are discussed, debated, dissected and debilitated to share that analogy. Of the 46 members of Congress on that particular committee, 26 are democrats, 21 are republicans, with nine members from California alone and 19 representatives – like Rep. Tiffany – without a saltwater constituency.
Suffice to say, it’s our own hard cheese that New Jersey and Delaware anglers have no one in Congress to rely on at the House Natural Resources Committee, although I’d be smooth as a cheese grater if some of our congressional reps would pay a visit to a few Midwestern congressional offices to explain just how important our coastal fisheries really are back at home. Until that point, we’re all just cheese at four pence waiting for yet another federally mandated access issue to rear its ugly head.
Yeah, so I had a little fun Googling “cheesy quotes” with this editorial; perhaps some members of Congress should do the same with “New Jersey fishing.” Now that the House Natural Resources Committee has taken up a rewrite of our federal fisheries law (Magnuson Stevens Act) this fall, who knows, maybe Rep. Tiffany will become one of our outspoken advocates, the big cheese if you will.