Gardener News: Helping Farmers of the Sea

In the time since I first joined the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, I’ve learned that agriculture involves far more than just farming. New Jersey’s industry extends far beyond that - from greenhouses to gardens, nurseries, and woodlands. Though many don’t realize it, it also reaches into our rivers, our coasts, and our seas.

Fish and shellfish, after all, have to come from somewhere. Aquaculture - the farming of the sea - is a key component of agriculture up and down America’s coasts. Like the farming industry on land, the produce that comes from fisheries isn’t bound to a single state or county. Aquaculture is an interstate and sometimes international field. To paraphrase the founding charter of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), fish don’t adhere to political boundaries.

The industries of commercial and recreational fishing are no small minnows. Generating $9.5 billion and 245,000 local jobs annually, these fields are key to other New Jersey industries, including tourism, recreation, processing, and grocery markets. But if fish don’t obey political state borders, it’s up to someone else to make sure our Atlantic fisheries remain whole, healthy, and unplundered. That’s where the ASMFC comes in.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is a commission of U.S. states that was formed to coordinate and manage fishery resources along the Atlantic coast of the United States. Today, it oversees the sustainable conservation and management of all near-shore fishery resources held by its fifteen member states, from the coastal waters of Maine to the tropical seas of Florida.

This December, I was proud to accept a nomination as one of New Jersey’s representatives to the ASMFC. I believe that this new role is a prime opportunity to lend my voice to commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, and aquaculture farms all across our Jersey Shore, and I’m excited to hit the ground running.

What makes the ASMFC important? The key to understanding its role lies in its name - “States,” plural. As an interstate entity, the Commission gives New Jersey real partners in addressing issues that affect our fisheries, whether it’s regulating catches to prevent overfishing or researching new ways to keep our fishing industries sustainable and successful.
Right now, New Jersey places fifth in United States commercial fishing production - belying our size, but accurately reflecting the Garden State’s real potential to be an agricultural powerhouse. That’s in no small part due to our six major commercial fishing ports - Atlantic City, Barnegat Light, Belford, Cape May, Point Pleasant, and Port Norris - whose contributions helped generate $6.2 billion of value in commercial saltwater fishing in 2018. To quote Nicholas Polanin of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension: “That’s a lot of fish, and a lot more than fish.”

While research institutions like the Rutgers Cooperative Extension are essential in helping Garden State aquaculture and agriculture innovate, the ASMFC is itself a major sponsor of research as well. Just last month, the Commission, in collaboration with the NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture, took applications for more than half a million dollars in grants to fund marine aquaculture pilot projects about sustainable aquatic farming and expanding the production of United States domestic seafood. This is critical research that will help drive resource protection and entrepreneurship across our coasts for years to come.

These types of innovation have already become essential to New Jersey fish farms. With new oyster beds cropping up in estuaries from Barnegat to the Delaware River and the Raritan Bay, business is booming - which is why the Rutgers Aquaculture Innovation Center is working to create new ways of producing fast-growing, disease-resistant seed oysters to create new, healthy beds. Scientific progress keeps marching forward, and by collaborating with our neighbors in federal government and across state boundaries, we can accelerate that progress even further.

As a member of this commission, I plan to be a strong advocate for New Jersey fisheries and our state’s greatest natural resource: the Atlantic Ocean. I look forward to expanding my knowledge about Atlantic aquaculture, and invite you to reach out at any time with your thoughts about how we can better support these critical industries.

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