Sustainable fishing: bigger isn’t better

fishing2

This cartoon by Darrin Bell of The New Yorker illustrates the obsession we have with the false belief that  “bigger is better”. Our State of New Jersey and the Marine Fisheries Council have fallen into the trap that encourages recreational fishermen to harvest the largest breeding stock fish while throwing smaller ones back, often to die.

Our fisheries scientists know that this practice is unsustainable. Yet we as a society refuse to change it. Yet we are not alone. History provides plenty of example where denial of the facts led to extinction of species, even of humans. One thing we do know about extinction is that it happens more rapidly than anyone would have guessed. We are living dangerously when we focus on “bigger is better”.

Sustainable fishing depends on managing the harvest of smaller and more abundant juvenile fish. Large trophy fish should be protected, or at least should not be the target. There is no shame in that, and in fact should be promoted as a positive approach. I’ve been told directly by industry and government leaders that this practice won’t change in my lifetime no matter how loudly the scientific and environmental communities object.

We live in an age where ignoring and/or denying facts is popular. All I can do is to be a voice for the truth. I am individually committed to encouraging sustainable fisheries and my small business will do what it can to change the current culture of “bigger is better”.

“No retreat”: Pros and Cons

no-retreat-save-the-bayshor

A few years ago the deputy mayor of Downe Township, a former neighbor here at Money Island, came up with the idea and we printed a bunch of bumper stickers and signs that said “No Retreat! Save the bay shore communities”. I say ‘we’ because as far as I know the project was paid for with public funds. I didn’t think that government should be involved in a choice that was essentially a private decision about their home or business. Our properties lie on the border of Downe Township and Lawrence Township. Lawrence Township took the opposite approach and vowed to support its residents no matter what they decided to do in reaction to state government property buyouts. The campaign was a great success as far as bumper stickers go. Several years later I still see the ‘No Retreat’ bumper stickers and signs everywhere. The campaign itself was not so successful. Most of my community, including the former local government official who designed the campaign, sold their properties to the state and retreated inland.

For some the ‘No Retreat’ slogan effectively summarizes the political and financial effort to retain all of our taxable real estate assets. Shoreline properties tend to be taxes at the highest rates within a community. Losing them can be financially disastrous to a community. For others, the slogan simply reflects an affinity for the bayshore community or a natural desire to keep family home. At the core of issue is the question: “Can humans survive the challenges of climate change at the bayshore?” For most, the answer has proven to be ‘no’. The financial demands and threats of government forced the decision for most of our neighbors. For me, the answer is ‘yes, but it requires major changes’. Only time will tell how the financial and government challenges will be met for the few businesses or residents that remain. A book coming out next year from Beacon Press covers this episode of local history.

The problem is that the scientists and accountants among us know that “No Retreat” is not a sustainable strategy per se. Virtually all of us who have been involved in sea level rise response planning recognize that we will lose some of our shoreline properties and communities. A reporter reported on the irony that under the force of a strong new moon tide, he saw the “No Retreat” signs floating down the flooded roadway. Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and other states are heavily involved in stakeholder discussions about how to handle this natural force. New Jersey lags far behind in this process. Some politicians still question the state’s official sea level rise projection that calls for some of our communities to be completely inundated within our lifetime.

The fact is that the overwhelming majority of community planners believe that strategic retreat is the best available strategy as a response to sea level rise. We will undoubtedly save some of our present waterfront and technology will allow some businesses – like aquaculture – to survive and even thrive in this new high water environment. But the older homes along the bayshore will eventually be swallowed up by the forces of erosion; the combined effect of more water and higher levels of destructive energy in the water.

The first wave of buyouts here at Money Island is complete. Next month the tear-downs will begin. A second wave of tear-downs will follow.

I predicted this series of events in a blog post and many public discussions. As an early forecaster of the trend, I was sometimes blamed for its impact. I still believe that this section of the bayshore needs to retreat to its commercial roots – fishing, shellfish, and aquaculture – but use new technologies to ensure sustainability for coming generations. The loss of our bayside vacation communities is a sad but inevitable development for many of us.

sunset over Bayview Road in Money Island were houses are scheduled for demolition next month.

Half million dollar sea wall brings 30 year sustainability to Money Island

This post was originally published September 15, 2015.

In 2004 a small group of neighbors on Bayview Road in Money Island gathered together to promote a common cause under the name eventually adopted “Money Island Improvement Association”. The road had already crumbling under the force of rising sea levels and the only way that neighbors could reach their properties was to cut across my front yard. There were clear signs that our bridge would eventually collapse under the pressure of increased water flow underneath the road. Several neighbors had already lost their houses and land.

We lobbied government at every level. Over the past twelve years I’ve personally had hundreds of discussions to promote the project. I handed out flyers and hosted neighborhood meetings. Not everyone was comfortable with my activists efforts to bring attention to the project. I even received a telephone death threat from one official and was physically assaulted by a neighbor as a result of these efforts. Downe Township joined the effort.

Five years later in 2009 a grant was issued. At the grant ceremony covered by NJ.com in October 2009 Downe Township Mayor Renee Blizzard thanked Money Island residents for their persistence and specifically cited me for my patience and support of the project. Downe Township’s current Mayor Campbell took up the cause in recent years.

Now, this week, we finally broke ground with the project. I feel like this is a tangible example of grass roots efforts can really produce results despite the challenges posed by government and naysayers. Our effort is not over yet. The installation of the bulkhead will increase pressure on the bridge and neighboring properties. It will be necessary to eventually replace or fortify these as well. We recognize that it could be an another twelve year effort. But right now it makes sens to take a breather and recognize how far we’ve come.

The bulkhead project was finished in 2016 and is expected to last at least 30 years.

MI grant ceremony 001MI grant ceremony 005bulkhead

How to address climate change deniers

Responding to climate change deniers can be tedious. It’s tough to know how to deal with people who form an opinion based on news sites and social media and value their own conclusions over those of the  overwhelming majority of actual subject matter experts. Despite overwhelming amount of confirming evidence in the science community, we’ve seen a corresponding increase in skepticism over the validity of this independent peer reviewed body of work confirming the basic climate change findings. This excerpt from a letter from Governor Jerry Brown to Dr. Ben Carson on September 10, 2015 is one way to respond:

“Please find enclosed a flash drive with the complete United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ‘Synthesis Report,’ the concluding installment of the Fifth Assessment Report, published earlier this year. This report assessed over 30,000 scientific papers and was written by more than 800 authors representing 80 countries around the world who definitively concluded that “human influence on the climate system is clear and growing with impacts observed across all continents and oceans.”

This is just one of the thousands of reports authored by the world’s top scientists on the subject, including a study published last month by Columbia University, University of Idaho and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies scientists that found climate change has intensified California’s drought, These aren’t just words. The consequences are real.

Please use your considerable intelligence to review this material. Climate change is much bigger than partisan politics.”

It occurs to me that there are plenty of others in the category we label as “deniers” who would benefit from becoming familiar with this massive body of research.

Good News on Money Island and Bay Water Quality

The Delaware River Basin Commission collects water samples periodically and publishes data about bacteria levels in the Delaware Bay. Four of the collection points are south of our location at Money Island NJ and are therefore could be affected by discharge from the bayshore communities in this local region. The primary factor of concern, especially in summer, is the level of e. coli bacteria, also known as fecal coliform. The data published on the State of New Jersey’s web site indicated that levels of fecal coliform have been minimal or not detected at all collection points in the Delaware bay south of us at Money Island.

This data is especially important because an improperly designed water quality test conducted in the summer of 2014 was misconstrued to imply that broken septic systems were contributing to fecal coliform levels in the Nantuxent Cove and in the bay around Money Island. Some environmentalists in the American Littoral Society and the Cumberland County Department of Health apparently misinterpreted last year’s report to mean that higher levels of reported bacteria were coming from human source discharge.  The test has since been discredited and its authors have disclaimed some of the methodology. All other tests prior to and after this have indicated a healthy level of fecal coliform in our waters.  The last comprehensive report on our water quality was published in 2012. (Since the date of this original post, a 2016 report was published. This report , page 43, confirms positive findings for the Delaware Bay region’s fecal coliform tests).

In general, the mid and lower bay region has lower levels of bacteria than water bodies further north.

The test result data is summarized in this table. For complete information, see the test results for each individual month.

Fecal Coliform Summary Data

Collection Points:
Mahon River Crossledge Joe Flogger Brown’s Shoal
June 2015 Not detected Not detected Not detected 1
July 2015 Not detected Not detected Not detected Not detected
August 2015 Not detected 1 Not detected Not detected
September 2015 7 Not detected Not detected Not detected

A fecal coliform level of 200 is considered to be the maximum safe standard for this test.