Aquaculture crawls forward

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.

Why New Jersey aquaculture is stalled

New Jersey aquaculture

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.

Current NJ aquatic farmer license

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:

  1. Failed to implement license transfer procedures approved by the state legislature that would allow idle fishing licenses to be transferred to another person.
  2. Failed to issue a crab harvesters license to anyone associated with our landing port.
  3. Shut down community-based oyster gardening programs that are thriving in other states to raise public awareness and support of shellfish sustainability.
  4. Closed most of the commercial docks by court order.
  5. Denied Sandy recovery funding.
  6. Sued for land use permits missing since the 1970s.
  7. Published a deliberately false water quality report even after its author admitted to its faults.
  8. Denied a NJ SeaGrant wastewater processing permit application.
  9. Denied a Zane land use application for redevelopment of the aquaculture center infrastructure.
  10. Closed the community’s only public toilet facility (forcing visitors to go in the bushes; a practice unsafe and incompatible to aquaculture).
  11. Denied a major seafood company’s pre-permit request for site review for a new aquaculture facility.
  12. Closed the crab shedding business by court order.
  13. Prosecuted me for the new aquaculture association’s online marketing program despite me having no personal connection with crab sales.
  14. 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.

Local mayor Bob Campbell and former Congressman Frank LoBiondo visiting Money Island.

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.

Eminent domain at the bayshore

“Little else raises fear in property owners like eminent domain powers of government”.

I remember back years ago when we didn’t worry that our children might be murdered in a mass killing by crazy guy with a military style machine gun in their school. Back then we didn’t worry that people from another country were stealing our anything. In fact, we even welcomed them and benefited from the relationships. And we mostly believed that when our president said something the result was based in fact. Back then, I still recall, that one thing that did make an ordinary American’s blood boil was the topic of eminent domain. The government’s right to take private property for the public good scared us to an extreme. Little else raises fear in property owners like eminent domain powers of government. The topic of eminent domain was a prevailing social paranoia among NJ and PA property owners in the communities where I grew up as a child and lived as a homeowner for decades more.

Bayshore residents give up a lot in order to live here. No modern conveniences, fierce bugs, storms, flooding, heat and more. Yet we make those sacrifices for a reason; the ability to remain in our own part of heaven. Yet eminent domain threatens to rob us of the value of these years of sacrifice by offering the depleted cash value of our homes and businesses and leaving little option to restore a quality of life elsewhere. Eminent domain is the ultimate environmental injustice. Eminent domain is one of the legally endorsed techniques to accelerate the overall long term trend of rich people displacing poor people at the coast. I understand this larger concept of government displacement of poor people at the bayshore is a theme of the book “The Drowning of Money Island” that I have not read yet.

Since Superstorm Sandy in 2012 thousands of New Jersey shorefront property owners – mostly in rich Atlantic coastal towns – have felt the effect of eminent domain law. Many hated it and think of it as legalized theft. But the government’s perceived need to make immediate infrastructure changes to save our shore towns was held as a higher priority than individual property rights.

Most people acknowledge a need to relocate populations away from the coast but some human workforce is still needed at the bayshore to support fisheries, aquaculture, marine trades and other support services. I’ve always assumed that I might be floating on a boat, but that my presence would always be valued in these capacities at the bayshore.

Here at the bayshore state government has emphasized voluntary property acquisitions rather than eminent domain. The words eminent domain are still considered taboo by many politicians. One of our former mayors emphasized that this township would never use eminent domain to acquire properties. That’s partly why I was surprised when conservative Downe Township in Cumberland County proposed a series of land acquisition ordinances that included eminent domain provisions. The ordinances do not require that the properties utilize eminent domain law, but rather that they open the door to that possibility.

This blog post is written simply to document the little bit that I’ve learned about eminent domain as it applies (or not) to our situation.

I presume that small township solicitors use prototype ordinances in his daily work for our township. This seems to be the case for a number of proposed land acquisition ordinances that include the term “EMINENT DOMAIN” in the title section. More concerning is that each proposed ordinance includes this phrase:

“WHEREAS, the Township has determined that it is necessary, beneficial and in the public’s interest to acquire all or a portion of the subject Property for public use as proposed;”

I’ve learned from other sources that this is boilerplate language and, in fact, no actual determination that would meet the requirements of that clause under the Eminent Domain Act of 1971 as interpreted by the courts, has actually been made.

Here are my concerns:

First, I wish that we would be more precise in our wording of proposed ordinances to avoid miscommunication and legal tussles later. The fact is that it is highly unlikely that local government could meet this specific legal requirement. To say that government already did this is misleading.

Second, I wish that we would completely avoid the use of the term “eminent domain” unless it is absolutely necessary as determined by due public process.

Third, I wish that we would address the real problem: scarcity of funding to accomplish all of these well-intended municipal goals. While I know that a few people work hard to find funding, the pattern is to ignore possibilities of public private partnerships like the ones my company Baysave develops to accomplish community goals. We need to get the community involved and build consensus among diverse interests to accomplish our challenging climate change adjustments ahead.

”Elitist”

We face threats to our quality of life and even our continued existence in two primary realms: 1) democracy and 2) planet. The proven effective strategy of those in control of the status quo is to repress history and current science by replacing these with emotionally driven memes that support their own agendas. We see that happening now at a shocking level.

The attack can be deterred by improving the quality of information we absorb. Education weakens the power of propaganda and big money interests. Our salvation does not require change in everyone. If only 5% more people based their positions on quality information sources like primary peer reviewed journals, conventions, the classic arts and books rather than social media then the entire world could be saved.

I’m not saying that I believe that we will actually reverse the dumbing down and decline in the intellect of the mass population. I am just saying that there is a clear possible path to save ourselves. Yet this solution is increasingly attacked as “elitist”, both by the elites already in power and the masses influenced by their propaganda. I hear some version of this label frequently in attempts to repress this thinking.

Being labeled as an elitist and independent thinker can even be dangerous. My community campaign of handing out information to influence local government to follow scientific standards for environmental sustainability triggered death threats and a hit attempt by a local politician in 2006.

Today the repression of democratic process and deliberate repression of information in locally important issues is worse than any other time of my life. This ongoing effort to address this catastrophe remains my primary life focus despite my admission that we are losing the war.

the unlikely elitist

All Quiet

All is quiet on a Monday. I’ve had one visitor to Money Island in the past 24 hours; except of course the three guys who make a daily drive through past my house. That’s a whole different story. The visitor is a disabled veteran whose son works on an oyster boat. He came down to do a little fishing and watch his son come back in from work.

Part of the reason for few people now is that the greenhead flies are bad. Lance and I were chased in last night after getting only about 200 yards into our planned evening walk. But today on a morning walk I saw the first dragonfly. It seems early for dragonflies that usually come in the middle of July and kill many of the greenheads and mosquitos.

Meanwhile, the recovery plan for my own life and the future of Money Island continues to evolve. The memorandum of understanding letters go out today. I will begin making personal calls to potential stakeholders. The legal and financial model seems to be worked out and ready to move forward.

It’s been one week since I was found guilty of a criminal offense in New Jersey by a judge who said he reviewed the evidence and sided with the officer over me. I was pretty shaken up that day but my thinking is clearer now. I think I understand more of where I went wrong in presenting the evidence and how I could have made my case more effectively. I now understand why the officer lied and the person taking the payment on the “anonymous” complaint is exposed. Moreover, I am reminded that it is not reasonable to expect justice from the justice system when the issues involve fraud as deep as this. But it is too late for that now. I need to focus on maintaining my professional licenses and avoiding facing the same false charge again. Most of those details will be kept private. I did aree to put together a post for an accounting magazine on dealing with fraud within government.

I’ve also been thinking about the two people who ripped off the marina last week. There is little I can do because the arrangements were with Bruce who died a year ago. Unfortunately a few people who owed money saw that as a way to beat their debt to the marina. What this means is that I’ve been unable to pay some creditors. That causes stress. I don’t know how else to handle it except to continue to muscle through.