It was a busy week at Money Island but that doesn’t mean that an outcome is any more clear. I see competing and conflicting interests that will eventually clash. Meanwhile, I head two independent confirmations of ongoing investment here.
The state is planning more oyster aquaculture training in Trenton in early 2020. I was asked to help prepare an invitation list.
One local business wants to expand crabbing and processing here again. I agreed to help with the marketing, but had a conversation with Division of Fish and Wildlife to avoid being caught in our antiquated laws again. Current law says that a marketing consultant can be prosecuted for not having fisheries industry catch records, even if the marketer did not sell any product.
Meanwhile, roadway erosion control work continues, but apparently not in coordination with the oyster industry. This just seems odd and inefficient.
Doing some late night browsing I noticed some news from other states on progress in aquaculture projects in other locations and confirming my observation that New Jersey’s aquaculture development is stalled. The industry appears to be moving ahead in virtually every other seaboard state, including Delaware to our south and New York to our north.
In fact, there has been no substantive progress in fish farming here in New Jersey since the publication of the state’s “Guide to Developing Aquaculture in New Jersey” in 2003. Shellfish farming has advanced at the eastern shore but is monopolized and strangled by the political process here on the bayshore.
Since I first became a licensed NJ aquatic farmer in 2012, the state of New Jersey has taken these specific actions to stall our aquaculture business at Money Island:
Failed to implement license transfer procedures approved by the state legislature that would allow idle fishing licenses to be transferred to another person.
Failed to issue a crab harvesters license to anyone associated with our landing port.
Shut down community-based oyster gardening programs that are thriving in other states to raise public awareness and support of shellfish sustainability.
Closed most of the commercial docks by court order.
Denied Sandy recovery funding.
Sued for land use permits missing since the 1970s.
Published a deliberately false water quality report even after its author admitted to its faults.
Denied a NJ SeaGrant wastewater processing permit application.
Denied a Zane land use application for redevelopment of the aquaculture center infrastructure.
Closed the community’s only public toilet facility (forcing visitors to go in the bushes; a practice unsafe and incompatible to aquaculture).
Denied a major seafood company’s pre-permit request for site review for a new aquaculture facility.
Closed the crab shedding business by court order.
Prosecuted me for the new aquaculture association’s online marketing program despite me having no personal connection with crab sales.
Prosecuted me for stolen fishing equipment that was discovered more than a year later to be used illegally despite me having no connection with the equipment after the reported theft.
In short, the state has done just about everything possible to cause our aquaculture industry to fail, yet the watermen here persist and continue to push forward.
Money Island is the state’s second most productive seafood landing port. This year the investment in commercial infrastructure has growing at an unprecedented pace. Seafood landings are increasing. Commercial docks prices are rising. The number employed here has increased. Yet state government appears to be determined to do everything in its power to destroy the local aquaculture economy.
I’ve personally met or talked with lawmakers at all levels: Senator Booker, Senator Menendez, former Congressman LoBiondo, Congressman and former State Senator Van Drew, State Senator Andrzejczak, Assemblyman Land, several former state senators, most of our county freeholders, our county economic development officer, our local mayor and a fisheries industry consultant. All agree that the number of people inside NJ state government opposed to our aquaculture plans is small. We recognize that just a handful of bureaucratic naysayers is holding us back. Most acknowledge that they are aware that the state is using false information and sometimes even illegal tactics to stall local aquaculture. Yet I don’t sense that anyone has a plan to deal with these state government destructive forces.
Earlier this year, a trusted business associate told me that he was in recent personal contact with the Governor’s office to discuss this aquaculture problem that was holding up his company’s infrastructure investments. He was told that the Governor’s Office decided to not get involved with these matters that fall under the direction of the NJDEP’s Catherine McCabe. McCabe has visited Money Island recently, but she never stopped at the office nor has she responded to my calls.
Perhaps the most chilling memory of dealing with this problem is a one-one-one conversation I had with former Congressman Frank LoBiondo outside of our business. He had taken a tour of our living shoreline stabilization projects at Money Island and was waiting for a driver to pick him up. I had spoken with the Congressman before, both here in NJ and in his DC office. He was always formal and expressed restrained support under the circumstances. But on this day we had a few rare quiet minutes to talk alone with nobody else around. It was the most honest conversation I’ve ever had with a politician. I echoed my frustrations as listed above. He said “It’s the DEP, right?” He shook his head. “I hear it again and again. We’ve been unable to make any progress”. As I walked back include after he left, my heart sank. If he couldn’t make any progress with the state bureaucracy – even as a U.S. Congressman – then what hope did I have of solving these problems?
I have plenty of other ‘almost too hard to believe’ stories of the deliberate stalling of aquaculture here by a few state government officials. I hope that eventually I’ll be able to record those details in this blog.
We know that aquaculture industry has a bright future and will thrive in other areas under the spark of large international corporations. But the survival and future of small aquaculture businesses here at Money Island New Jersey remains very much in doubt.