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Response to 2019 NJDEP Annual Report of Division of Fish and Wildlife

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection recently published its 2019 annual report, available at https://www.njfishandwildlife.com/pdf/2019/ann_rprt_2019.pdf.

This response was sent to the Commissioner via email on January 14, 2020.


Catherine R. McCabe, Commissioner
State of New Jersey
Department of Environmental Protection
Division of Fish and Wildlife
Mail Code 501-03
P.O. Box 420
Trenton, NJ 08625-0420

Dear Commissioner McCabe:

I read with interest the ” Fiscal Year 2019 Annual Report for the Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife covering July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019″. The report includes your opening comments: “I encourage you to read this report and learn about the great work the Division of Fish and Wildlife does.  I also encourage you to get outside and experience what New Jersey has to offer.” We thank you for your leadership and support of the Division.

It is especially  encouraging to read that one of your three stated goals: “To maximize the recreational use and economic potential of New Jersey’s fish and wildlife for both present and future generations.” Yet we notice that this annual report has some significant omissions, at least from our perspective as resident users of state resources here on the Delaware Bay.

Two of those issues are summarized below:

BLUE CLAW CRABS

New Jersey has a vibrant commercial and recreational crab industry. This fishery is not mentioned at all in the annual report. We fear that this implies that the industry’s critical issues are not recognized or being addressed at the highest levels of appropriate government. In fact, that seems to be the case: management reforms seem to be stalled.

It may be important for the NJDEP to note these significant issues about our state’s crab industry:

  1. We enjoy a sustainable blue claw crab stock.
  2. The blue claw crab fishery  is supported by local research including Rider University’s accomplished professor Dr. Paul Jivoff.
  3. Blue claw crabs are one of the few New Jersey commercial fisheries species expected to thrive and expand under the forecasted changing water conditions ahead.
  4. The last blue claw crab research sponsored and promoted by a NJDEP report was produced more than a decade ago (https://www.nj.gov/dep/fgw/bluecrabresearch.htm) and does not likely reflect conditions today.
  5. The commercial crab harvesting industry continues to face difficulty with the state’s harvest licensing program that remain unresolved and stalled within NJDEP despite the best efforts by the state legislature. In short, more than half of the state’s licenses are “parked”, not being used but held as a potential future financial asset. This protects the status quo, established larger harvesters, but creates a bottleneck for younger prospective watermen in the efficient distribution of licensees in areas that could otherwise benefit from sustainable increase in harvest.
  6. Unrelated to state management per se, the New Jersey blue claw crab industry is going through a period of change after the industry’s largest regional wholesaler died in 2019. This enabled some smaller crab harvesting businesses to begin exploring a dock-to-table vertically integrated expansion. Dock-to-table is generally recognized as a way to increase economic value of the fishery, along with several other benefits. It may be in our best interest to support this industry in this opportunity.

Recreational oyster harvesting

Recreational harvesting of oysters is not mentioned in the report. While we notice anecdotally an increased public interest in the hand tonging of oysters, there appears to be no state data to reflect this. The 80 page report on the “Stock Assessment Workshop New Jersey Delaware Bay Oyster Beds (21th SAW) February 12-13, 2019” (https://hsrl.rutgers.edu/SAWreports/SAW2019.pdf) does not mention the recreational oyster industry, and, as far as we can tell, does not include any sampling of stock from areas open to recreational harvest. Part of the reason is that Delaware Bay oyster stock in publicly available harvest areas has declined despite an overall increase in oysters in private lease and commercial harvest management areas. We believe that recreational oyster harvesting could be a wonderful area of expansion of outdoor enjoyment if encouraged by the state.

We welcome the opportunity for continued dialog with NJDEP, especially on these issues that are so important to our bayshore communities.

Sincerely,

Tony Novak, Controller
tnovak@bayave.org

Baysave Association
228 Nantuxent Drive
Newport NJ 08345