Saltwater anglers have been pretty critical of fisheries managers of late for not publicizing regulatory changes with enough time to prep our boats, schedule charters or gear up for a new season. Well, I must say, 2022 is going down into the record books for the Murphy Administration for waiting nearly 17 hours after the season had actually started before posting the “official” fluke regulations. In fact, the state’s actual email alert wouldn’t arrive until 24 hours later, not only after the horse left the barn, but once that old mare crossed the Rio Grande in a mad sprint towards the Guatemalan border.
I tried of course, on behalf of readers and advertisers; I really did. On April 27 at 1:30 p.m., I sent an email to the Lawrence Hajna, press officer at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). It should be noted that as an official member of the news media, I’m not permitted to talk to NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife (Division) staffers without going directly to the NJDEP press office for approval; Murphy’s law if you will.
But on that fateful day that I’d inquired with Hajna as to the status of the official fluke regulations, I mistakenly included two Division staffers on my email, marine fisheries chief Jeff Brust and Division director Joseph Cimino. After hearing no response for 48 hours, I forwarded my original email request to Caryn Shinske, NJDEP’s Public Information Officer, again copying Mr. Hajna. That’s when I got my hand slapped for apparently not prefacing my question with “mother, may I?”
“I will look into this for you but considering this is your first contact to me about this, I’m starting from scratch – not 48 hours ago,” Shinske wrote back, pointing out my professional faux pas of including non-media Division staff in an email. “Contacting staff directly actually delays your query because everyone knows that any queries that come in must be redirected to the Press Office, and that’s done at a staffer’s convenience,” she said.
Shinske noted that media queries must go to the press office where staffers can “facilitate” a response. “If you’re going to email your query, please email both Larry and myself and one of us will get back to you to both acknowledge receipt of your email and to start the query process,” Shinske said, adding “Media queries are answered in the order in which they are received and are balanced against our other duties, which include addressing any environmental emergencies, writing news releases, participating in meetings, facilitating interviews and a host of numerous other responsibilities.” Shinske said if I don’t receive acknowledgement of my email that day, I have to “call the press office to confirm that it was received.”
“If you start following the above-described protocol that dozens of other reporters follow, you may find that things will work more smoothly,” Shinske added. At approximately 12:01 p.m. on Friday, 60 hours and counting before the “expected” start of New Jersey’s 2022 fluke season, Larry Hajna emailed back, “Yes, the season will open on Monday.” Short, sweet, and vaguely to the point. Strangely, Hajna didn’t copy Shinske on the email, a rather serious breach of bureaucratic protocol, one which I chose to leave unmentioned.
Both Shinske and Hajna were reporters and editors in their old lives, which in itself is a pretty sad statement on the current state of government transparency and accountability. I know I’m just a fishing editor, but what kind of free and open press is dictated by government mandated protocols which are balanced against a staffer’s other duties and general convenience?
In the era of fake news, it appears that the public wants to shoot the messenger, while government press officers are there to help point the gun barrel in the right direction. It’s a fluking travesty if you ask me.