NJ Budget Woe - The Fisherman

NJ Budget Woe

Heading into the July Fourth weekend, the New Jersey 2020 fiscal year budget was approved by Governor Phil Murphy without a government shutdown or sandals scandal at IBSP. While political pundits bickered over spending (or lack thereof) for highways, college tuition and undocumented immigrants, I thought I’d hit on a couple of points that no one else in the media seems interested in covering. Specifically, our fisheries.

In terms of dedicated revenues by the Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) towards coastal fisheries, some departments got a little extra, others fell a bit flat. After having received $315,000 in 2019 for recreational fisheries surveys, NJDEP is only allotting $270,000 to that effort moving forward. Meanwhile the line item for Marine Fisheries Investigation and Management falls from $2.19 million in 2019 to $1.75 million in 2020, while appropriation directly to Atlantic Coastal Fisheries within NJDEP drops from $395,000 to just $300,000.

Static, unchanged NJDEP investments in the 2020 budget are $985,000 for the artificial reef program which includes various permit fees, while boat access within the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife stays at $1 million.

There are a couple of interesting factoids collected within the final FY2020 budget as well. The number of individual anglers registered with the state’s saltwater recreational was 165,149 in 2018, although the state estimates that number will top 265,000 in 2019 and 2020. As for the number of freshwater fishing licenses sold, the monthly average of license sales in 2018 was 13,430, which NJDEP expects to rise to 14,700 a month over the course of 2019 and 2020.

Important takeaways here – based on numbers above, there were 161,160 licensed freshwater anglers in 2018, and 165,149 registered saltwater anglers. I couldn’t tell you the rate of compliance at the state level; and also keep in mind that for-hire boats can register for blanket coverage allowing customers to fish without an individual state registration. That said, the actual angler numbers written into the state budget are a far cry from federal statistics; the last state-by-state breakdown made available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife in 2006 had the Garden State pegged at 243,000 freshwater anglers and 496,000 saltwater anglers, a fairly significant dissimilarity in the course of 13 years.

For the 17 years I’ve been in this business, NJDEP and its Division of Fish and Wildlife have hosted an outdoor writer’s workshop every spring at their Central Region Office at Assunpink. It’s always provided a good opportunity for hunting and fishing writers to meet with biologists, managers, enforcement folks and commissioners in one central location to review annual initiatives relevant to our readers. This year was the first that I personally recall that there was no formal get-together. A couple of folks told it’s because there are so few hunting and fishing writers in the state any longer; I’d say there’s probably a strong connection between that and the bureaucratic reality which is that sportsmen remain an afterthought in Trenton.

I was talking it over with my buddy John Depersenaire at the Recreational Fishing Alliance who has spent years poring over state and federal legislation and combing through financial records to find nuggets of hope for our fishermen. He pointed out that most politicians and bureaucrats in the state capital have never really given recreational fishing its priority status.

“Trenton never had the creative ability to see that recreational saltwater fishing was a total money maker for the state,” Depersenaire said, pointing out the failed bailout in Atlantic City with the Revel beachfront property going belly-up after two short years as example. “And yet, Trenton won’t make the same type of investment in our recreational fishing infrastructure and industry, an industry that is not a vice and always generates positive state taxes,” Depersenaire added. Could you imagine?

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