In a recent Ammoland column by conservationist Anthony Mauro, the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) is clumsily referred to by the author as Satan, and it doesn’t take reading between the lines to get to the point. Clearly, Mr. Mauro has great disdain for RFA and our 16-year mission to defend the rights of saltwater anglers.
It’s certainly understandable; Mr. Mauro’s vitriolic attack of the RFA is tantamount to a temper tantrum thrown by a little boy who never gets his way. Fact is, Mr. Mauro is a political amateur lashing out against a system for which he has no functional understanding or ability.
Since emerging onto New Jersey’s political scene in 2007 as self-anointed messiah of his own spiritual doctrine self-titled as ''Blue-Collar Conservation'' movement, Mr. Mauro has demonstrated himself to be an extremely ineffectual advocate for New Jersey’s recreational sportsmen, and little more than a self-aggrandizing egoist with personal delusions of grandeur. The owner of CAMtec Industries, a machining firm which “specializes in serving the outsourcing needs of the manufacturing community,” Mauro formed the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance (NJOA) as a part-time hobby, enlisting the help of a retired New Jersey state conservation officer Ed Markowski and fellow North Jersey metal worker Pete Grimbilas, to take over respectively as vice-president and secretary.
Selling themselves to legislators as the “NJEA of New Jersey’s outdoor community” (a reference to the New Jersey Education Association, one of the largest public sector unions in the state), NJOA has spent significant time and membership money on providing cover for New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), particularly for Mr. Markowski’s former employers at the NJDEP’s Division of Fish & Wildlife.
As each of these gentlemen have learned first-hand through their new hobby, putting all one’s efforts towards functioning as the public sector union for the NJDEP is not all it’s cracked up to be. Their venom is catharsis; it’s realization by its very founders that NJOA has proven to be a complete failure in attaining any coastal fisheries action or legislation in the state of New Jersey.
SOMETHING FISHY ABOUT POT
Take for example the Pots Off the Reef legislation introduced by the New Jersey legislature in 2007 to effectively prohibit use of fixed commercial gear within 100 feet of artificial reefs created by the NJDEP and their Division of Fish and Wildlife. An established and effective political action organization which solely represents the interests of saltwater anglers, business owners and the marine resource, RFA has continually supported efforts to clear New Jersey’s artificial reefs of fixed gear, including the legislative attempts within the state capital of Trenton. Regrettably, unreasonable lobbying efforts on the part of the New Jersey commercial fishing industry has led to hostile reaction by the NJOA and its allies, creating a monumental political divide in the efforts to move legislation forward.
The real issue here as the RFA has continually pointed out is that the NJDEP has never had to wait for legislation to get this issue rectified; it was a DEP regulation which originally allowed commercial potters to be on the reef sites to begin with, a simple regulation from the DEP to get the pots off is essentially all that is required now; NJOA on the other hand decided instead to put the pressure squarely on the New Jersey Senate and Assembly in hoping to drive a legislative victory for themselves.
While RFA supports a 100% removal of fixed gear from New Jersey reefs - either through legislative or regulatory means - we have also warned the DEP of a bigger conservation issue that also needs to be addressed with regard to the sheer number of commercial fish pots in inshore waters. Since 2006, RFA has been pressing NJDEP as to the unmanaged commercial pot/trap fishery, an issue that not only impacts reef access by individual anglers but has also led to a serious conservation problem with coastal fish stocks, most notably tautog.
As much as RFA has supported legislative efforts to resolve the conflict in state waters with fixed gear, RFA has also pressured the NJDEP to develop a comprehensive pot management plan for better accounting of the sheer number of pots in coastal waters. After all, if *10,000 commercial fish pots are removed from an artificial reef, where will they go?
(*The number 10,000 is purely a random figure; no one, not even the NJDEP itself which is responsible for such regulatory concerns, has no reasonable idea how many pieces of fixed commercial fishing gear are actually deployed at any given time in New Jersey coastal waters.)
WHEN YOU STRIKE AT THE KING…
Hunters and anglers know that when your truck gets stuck in soft sand, the last thing you want to do is press down harder on the accelerator; you’ll only spin your wheels and dig yourself a deeper hole. With 16 years of experience navigating the political arena, RFA knew enough to get out of the cab to better survey the opportunities in order to figure out a better way around the mess created by the two sides. By essentially letter some air out of the tires, RFA chose to discuss the issue with legislators, representatives of the DEP and members of the commercial sector.
NJOA on the other hand, with the support of his member associates at the Jersey Coast Anglers Association and New Jersey State Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, left the table and opted for a different approach by organizing hostile, sign-carrying protests in front of legislative offices, threatening key legislators that if they did not fully comply with the NJOA demands on the reef issue, they would be elected out of office.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “When you strike at a king, you must kill him.” Needless to say, Mr. Mauro and his band of merry man fell short of his threat, which has essentially rendered NJOA mostly obsolete in terms of legislative issues in the state of New Jersey.
RFA still supports efforts to remove fixed gear from the reefs, either by legislative or regulatory means. The “compromise bill” which NJOA opposes would not only clear approximately 90% of the surface area of New Jersey’s two inshore reefs of fixed gear, it would also require Mr. Markowski’s former employers in the NJDEP to implement a much-needed pot management plan to get a better handle on the number of fish traps deployed throughout New Jersey coastal waters. Furthermore, this legislation would also allow the state to apply for special management zone privilege in federal waters through the regional fisheries management council, paving the way for efforts to eliminate fixed gear from all of New Jersey artificial reef complex in federal waters outside 3 miles.
It should be noted that the main reason the truck got stuck in the sand in the first place is because a handful of lobstering families in Northern New Jersey have been fishing a particular stretch of bottom for a number of generations, before there was an artificial reef dropped down on top of them by the DEP. The lobstermen of New Jersey would like to have access to that natural bottom where they’ve been lobstering for decades; the “compromise bill” would give them their small corner of natural structure, and allow recreational anglers unimpeded access to the rest of New Jersey’s artificial reef complex.
Some compromise, huh?
IT’S ALL IN THE MISSION
The RFA was specifically charted as a political action organization in 1996 with a specific mission “to safeguard the rights of saltwater anglers, protect marine, boat and tackle industry jobs, and ensure the long-term sustainability of our Nation’s saltwater fisheries.” Built on the doctrine of the NRA model, RFA was structured to be a first line of defense for the rights of our members to fish in coastal waters, for sportfishing businesses to thrive on that open access, while taking into account the sustainability of our fisheries.
In 2007, Mr. Mauro launched NJOA with a mission “to educate opinion leaders and policy makers about the principles of conservation; the foundation for healthy ecosystems, fish and wildlife.” His own non-profit tax records show the NJOA foundation has a primary purpose “to improve the health of both land and sea by means of conservation and habitat stewardship.” Sounds more like the stance of your typical ‘feel good’ environmental organization, doesn’t it?
That’s why it wasn’t too much of a surprise when NJOA supported Paul Eidman in his bid to take a seat at the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) as representative of New Jersey’s recreational fishing community. The fact of the matter is that Mr. Eidman has been a lobbyist of record for the Marine Fish Conservation Network, a creation of the Pew Environment Group, which has lobbied extensively in opposition to angler advocacy efforts to reform the federal fisheries law to provide anglers with improved access to coastal fish stocks.
As an advocate working with the Marine Fish Conservation Network, Mr. Eidman has himself been a vocal opponent of efforts to allow fisheries managers greater flexibility to keep the summer flounder fishery open. Somehow in his latest rant, Mr. Mauro believes anglers would’ve been better suited to having a larger size limit (18 inches) on summer flounder, which arguably would’ve made it harder than it is currently (17-1/2 inches) to get a couple of keepers for dinner; it would’ve also statistically created increased bycatch mortality rates on released fish, but that’s a public debate on coastal fisheries in which both Mr. Eidman and Mr. Mauro have declined to participate publicly through both email and phoned invitations, as well as on-air request by way of local outdoors radio broadcast (Rack & Fin Radio, 97.3FM in Atlantic City, NJ).
So while Mr. Eidman has been quite vocal in his opposition to relaxing size and bag limits on ‘fluke’ for anglers through his political stances via the Marine Fish Conservation Network, it’s still hard to believe that Mr. Mauro would also join this anti-access chorus.
The fact is, Mr. Eidman and the Marine Fish Conservation Network oppose efforts to reform our federal fisheries law as so many New Jersey anglers have requested, they have openly opposed efforts to provide saltwater anglers with improved access to the stock, and the organization itself has also been tabbed by their institutional funder as a primary proponent of catch share policies which would effectively cap the number of coastal fishermen by trading away ownership of the stock. Furthermore, Mr. Eidman himself has openly supported President Obama’s controversial National Oceans Policy, an executive order which would create over-arching and restrictive new bureaucracy which could further restrict America’s right to open access of our public resource.
The fact that Mr. Eidman’s name was introduced to the appointment debate originally at the behest of the NJDEP itself is evidence enough of this support for more bureaucracy and less rights for individual anglers throughout the entire Mid Atlantic region.
A WIN FOR REGIONAL ANGLERS
What NJOA fails to understand is that commercial fishing interests have, until this point, held a stranglehold on the vote at the regional fisheries council of late, especially the MAFMC. Due in large part to RFA’s national lobbying efforts, the overall makeup of the MAFMC has just taken a radical shift in favor of recreational fishermen with the latest round of appointments. New York’s commercial sector, which had held that particular ‘at large’ seat for over 10 years, actually lost the appointment to a recreational charter captain, a respected angler advocate named Capt. Tony DiLernia (who replaced commercial representative and fish wholesaler, Stephen Schafer.) Furthermore, a Virginia environmental advocate named Peter de Fur was also replaced at the federal level by a longtime recreational advocate named Jeff Deem.
While Mr. Mauro selfishly blasts RFA because his NJDEP favored candidate did not get the federal nod, the fact is that the latest federal decision on appointments gives the recreational community the majority vote at the MAFMC with five (5) seats, as opposed to four (4) for the environmentalists and just three (3) for the commercial sector. Had Mr. Eidman been selected as NJOA had hoped, the federal fisheries service would’ve no doubt recognized his work with the Marine Fish Conservation Network, giving environmentalists a 5-4 majority over recreational anglers.
(For the record, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo picked a fine candidate in Capt. Tony DiLernia, and the Mid-Atlantic recreational fishing community should feel a sense of optimism for the next few years with the newly appointed representatives seeing things from a stronger angler perspective as opposed to commercial and strictly environmental angles.)
Essentially, the recreational community in the Mid Atlantic region scored a big win this spring with the council appointments, yet Mr. Mauro appears too much the fisheries management amateur to really understand or comprehend the process. It should be noted of course that the RFA-NJ openly supported its own chairman, Capt. Adam Nowalsky, as a far better candidate to take the ‘at large’ seat for New Jersey to better represent the interests of New Jersey anglers. Had all the fishermen in New Jersey rallied around the most experienced and knowledgeable candidate on the slate, Capt. Nowalsky, it’s extremely unlikely that the ‘at large’ seat would’ve been awarded to New Jersey anyway after all these years in New York, especially given state-by-state balance of power.
Ammoland readers should understand that appointment to the $450 a day MAFMC is not a popularity contest, but mostly a matter of partisan politics. Think for a moment that our Democratic President and his Democratic administration, together decides how to appoint varied candidates to various MAFMC positions. If a Republican governor puts one name up and a Democratic governor puts another name up, which selection would you think that the Democratic administration is going to select? Precisely, it’s politics, and that’s the process which continues to confuse and bewilder Mr. Mauro and his unelected bureaucratic sympathizers at the NJOA.
MISTRUTHS FROM A PUBLIC SECTOR LOBBYIST
If you truly look at the details, it must certainly appear as if Mr. Mauro is far more interested in supporting Mr. Markowski’s friends in the NJDEP than worrying about the rights of saltwater anglers. During the saltwater registry vs. license debate in 2010/2011 for example, Mr. Mauro erroneously spread mistruths about the cost of a free angler registry in an effort to rally support for a new fee to fish. While claiming that registry costs would exceed $600,000 a year and warning how fishing moratoriums would soon be in place if anglers didn’t pony up to pay a new tax to fund the DEP, RFA recently reported how the true cost by the state DEP to implement an annual angler registry would actually amount to about $73,600 a year.
And the number of saltwater anglers?
About 250,000 in year one, half the amount which Mr. Mauro has continually used to make the NJOA case for increased government spending in the state of New Jersey.
Yes, RFA had a significant role in this victory for the recreational anglers of New Jersey. What Mr. Mauro doesn’t really want readers to know is that his own organization lost nearly all of their credibility with legislators and coastal fishermen alike during the free registry debate; even today faced with real numbers, Mr. Mauro still refuses to claim ownership of the spread of fictitious facts and figures during the 2-year debate. While RFA fought on behalf of their membership, NJOA was lobbying legislators to oppose the angler registry in hopes of creating a new tax mechanism. With a pledge to not create new taxes, Governor Christie happily signed the free registry legislation into law by saying “Fishing from our shores has been and should remain free to our residents. Some simple pleasures in life should be not be subject to a new unfunded federal mandate.”
Therein lies the big rub, the most devilish of details if you will. Mr. Mauro’s positions on conservation in the state of New Jersey consistently favor the best interest of the public sector, the NJDEP, and not the sportsmen themselves. Supporting a fee to fish, intensifying legislative battles over an NJDEP regulatory issue at the state managed reef sites, endorsing a candidate favored by bureaucrats and radical conservation interests – if sportsmen were to truly look at the details of this debate, they would see clearly the devil is little more than a false idol looking for followers through use of his poison pen.
Like the snakeoil salesman of yore peddling his magic elixir through made-up statistics and Satanic allusion, Mr. Mauro is trying to create a diversion from the obvious - that he is not some messiah of the Blue-Collar Conservation movement but a rank political amateur hopelessly punching keys from behind a dark curtain at his CAMtec industrial outsourcing office in tony Colts Neck, NJ a la the “great and powerful” Professor Marvel.
If sportsmen are going to follow the path of the Blue-Collar Conservation movement and its leaders, my advice, as Emerson warned, is to keep an eye on your spoons!