A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fisheries Management Budget Cuts Come to Roost

I've spoken repeatedly in this space about how the quality of life in New Jersey is at risk as Governor Christie hacks away at state budgets. Fewer government workers can mean fewer pensions paid in Trenton, but it also means less service to the community, including less oversight and monitoring in key areas.

The net effect of one realm of Christie's budget cuts rated a small if unattributed mention in today's Asbury Park Press. The NJ Bureau of Marine Fisheries has stopped an entire category of fishing -- the herring catch -- because the state lacks the staff to collect the necessary data to meet a regional commission's mandate to report on fishery sustainability. So what? Well, the implication is that the state doesn't have adequate staff to know what's happening with our fisheries, which has a much deeper significance than the status of herring. Not to diminish the impact of a change in status for one type of fish. The herring is an important food fish for other species, so its depletion can have all sorts of ramifications.

Unfortunately, the APP article made it only to page A19 in the print edition of today's paper -- just above the fold on the cover of APP's second A section. And the article needed to place more emphasis on the lack of staffing and budget. And it needed greater prominence in the paper. The incident should be viewed as a red flag, an ominous sign indicating something important needs fixing.

The article - State shuts river herring fishery - says that the Bureau of Fisheries doesn't have adequate staff to track the depletion of herring, which most recent information suggests is yielding less than 2% of what fishermen caught in the mid-1960s. Plus, herring is being inadvertently caught in net trawling operations to the tune of 3 million pounds per year. Herring is an important food fish to many fish, mammals, and birds. It is important to the striped bass, a major sports fish in our region.

Tom Fote of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association warned of the effect of state budget cuts on the Bureau of Fisheries in the February 2011 issue of Fisheries Management and Legislation Report. He pointed out that a lack of funding would cause the very problems that have forced NJ to stop the herring fishery.

Without appropriate funding, there is not enough personnel to actively participate on committees for stock assessment and technical issues at ASMFC. We risk being shortchanged in plans when we are unable to participate. When plans are developed we are unable to provide the technical information that supports our point of view. We can’t do regional breakdowns for species like tautog because we can’t accumulate the data to support decision making. As we review many of these plans in the upcoming years, this problem will be even worse.

In a 2007 report, Mr Fote had this to say:

In the last 25 years I have seen a complete disregard by the state for adequate funding for the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Marine Fisheries Administration, Bureau of Marine Fisheries. The New Jersey treasury has only contributed a little over 1 million dollars per year from the general fund since the mid 80’s. The other 2 million dollars per year comes from Wallop-Breaux funds and interstate grants. Both of these funding sources come from the excise tax on saltwater tackle drawing money directly from user groups.
. . .  In this same period of time I have seen a huge reduction in staff in the Division of Fish and Wildlife, most seriously in the Bureau of Marine Fisheries. Even in the years where money was not tight and other agencies of state government were seeing increases in funding and staff, the Bureau of Marine Fisheries has seen no increase. This has significantly hampered their ability to manage the resource and meet the escalating responsibilities placed on them by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and state mandates. . . .
In 2007, the Bureau of Marine Fisheries was responsible for implementing over 20 Fisheries Management Plans (FMP) put in place by either the ASMFC or NMFS. Most of the plans require a monitoring of size, recreational bag limits, seasons, commercial quotas and biological information for stock assessment. To meet these additional responsibilities there has been no increase in total staff. In fact, the staff has continued to decrease to a level about 30% less. The Bureau of Marine Fisheries has been in crisis mode and unable to meet minimum requirements for the last 15 years. We have been voted out of compliance by ASMFC since we are unable to do the biological research required in some of the FMP’s. I am not blaming the Division. Everyone who works there does a fantastic job with way too few people. The fault is not theirs. What I have seen is the impact this understaffing has on morale, sometimes resulting in early retirements of valued staff.

He recommended that a portion of sales tax receipts from the fishing and boating industries be directed to supporting the Bureau of Fisheries. He wrote:

This lack of increased funding has occurred despite the contribution of recreational fishing to New Jersey’s economy. Recreational fishing alone contributes 1.3 billion dollars annually to New Jersey’s economy. It accounts for over 500,000 visitors to New Jersey each year with fishing as the goal. The boating industry is a 2 billion dollar industry, tied to fishing, a clean environment and a well-managed resource. The most recent figures I have seen suggests the commercial industry contributes 4 – 5 hundred million dollars annually. . . .  New Jersey ranks #2 in the country in the number of trips made for recreational saltwater fishing. We rank #2 or #3 in the number of anglers. We rank #3 in the commercial landings. However, we are outspent for a state Bureau of Marine Fisheries by every state. We are at the bottom of the list for funding despite being at the top of the list for income generated.

In summary, you must defend your quality of life against unwise cuts in budgets. Tax cuts are nice, but to the extreme lowered taxes can yield anarchy. But, at the same time, you must expect to pay your fair share for quality of life and a secure, sustainable future.


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