“We will not be commenting further at this time.”
That’s the official response from Governor Murphy’s office on April 5 regarding the two vacancies on the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council (Council). Short, sweet, and an exceptional example of the lack of transparency in this current administration, which is probably the worst I’ve seen in 20 years of following and reporting on fisheries issues in New Jersey.
I’ve frequently inquired with the press office at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and Division of Fish & Wildlife (DFW) about the status of the missing Council appointments. At a previous Council meeting, DFW staffer Jeff Brust replied said “It’s not something that Council or staff does. The governor appoints them, with senate approval.”
In a follow-up to the NJDEP press office, I was told “Appointments to the Marine Fisheries Council are handled by the Governor’s office, with approval from Senate. Staff are not directly involved in the process and do not know the status of any pending appointments.”
After multiple attempts to contact the governor’s office directly (read: constant nagging), I finally received a formal answer in the days leading up to the April 7th Council meeting – “The Governor’s Office made seven appointments to the board in the second and third quarters of 2020. There are two vacancies for which candidates are consistently taken under consideration. The board is meeting with a quorum. The Governor’s Office does not comment on specific appointments before they are made.”
When I asked about a timeframe for these missing appointments, the Governor’s Office replied, “We will not be commenting further at this time.” The actual candidates’ paperwork is there in the governor’s office; I know because I tracked them down. In fact, I forwarded letters from two potential “sportfish” and “at large” candidates for the Council received by the Governor’s “Appointment Office” in late 2020. Fifteen months later these seats are still vacant, and the Murphy administration refuses any more comment, despite the fact that Administrative Guidelines require the Governor’s Appointment’s Office “to annually review Council membership regarding any changes or reappointments.”
By statute, Council membership consists of eleven members, nine appointed by the Governor with advice and consent of the New Jersey Senate, four who represent interests of sports fishermen, two that are active commercial fin-fishermen, one an active fish processor, and two members of the general public. The remaining two seats are held by the chairmen of the two sections of the Shellfisheries Council.
When you consider that a “fish processor” is commercial, as are the two shellfish seats, the final tally comes down to a 5-4 commercial to recreational ratio, with the two “general public” Council members effectively helping provide checks and balances. However, under state statute, the Council chairman typically only votes to break a tie, and since the current Chair occupies a “sports fishermen” seat, the roll call vote tally drops to 5-2 in favor of commercial when accounting for the missing “sport fishermen” appointment. Thus, there are actually only two appointed recreational votes on what’s supposed to be an eleven-member Council.
Fairness? No. Government transparency? Hardly! Is it any wonder then that anglers are frustrated by the Council process? Five years into the Murphy administration and there’s still no semblance of process or governance, as appointments to public advisory panels lag behind political posturing and campaigning in Trenton. I don’t care if you’re a registered democrat or a republican, any reasonable person should recognize that this is wrong on many levels.
In my personal and professional opinion, the Murphy administration presents a clear and present danger to the future of recreational fishing in New Jersey, not just by the governor’s actions but more so through lack of action, and his anti-democratic indifference.
I will not be commenting further at this time.