Thursday, September 7, 2017
PETER PAN IS ALIVE--AND LIVING IN NEW JERSEY
You remember Peter Pan. He was the boy who wouldn't grow up, and remained a child for all eternity.
And such eternal childhood appears to have been a conscious choice. In the original play where he was introduced to the world by author J.M Barrie, Peter Pan says
“I ran away the day I was born, because I heard father and mother talking about what I was to be when I became a man. I don’t ever want to be a man. I always want to be a little boy and to have fun.”
Essentially, Peter Pan’s escape from the real world into his sanctuary of Neverland was an escape from the need to don the mantle of responsibilities that come with adulthood.
Psychology recognizes the concept of the puer aeternus—the eternal boy. Such an individual, among other things,
“covets independence and freedom, opposes boundaries and limits, and tends to find any restriction intolerable.”
Recent news in the angling press suggests that Peter Pan—the puer aeternus—is still alive, and living in New Jersey’s recreational fishing community.
Some might say that is hardly a revelation; for years, recreational fishery management in the Garden State has been consistently characterized by efforts to resist limits and restrictions, and to kill the most and smallest fish possible over the longest period of time, without concern for the long-term health of fish stocks. At the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, New Jersey’s representatives can be depended upon to try to harvest as many fish as possible, whether the species in question is striped bass or summer flounder.
This spring, the New Jersey angling community displayed its irresponsibility when it steadfastly refused to cooperate with the other members of ASMFC and adopt summer flounder regulations that were supported by the rest of the states with a declared interest in the fishery. Instead, it went out of compliance with ASMFC’s summer flounder management plan, successfully appealing to the Secretary of Commerce, who allowed the state to keep its non-compliant regulations in place in a decision that seemed to be based primarily on politics, not science.
“If you can add up [New Jersey Governor] Christie, Trump and [Commerce Secretary] Ross and not come up with the fact that this was a political decision, you’ve got blinders on.”
But it wasn’t just the decision to ignore ASMFC and the advice of its biologists that evoked images of puer Peter Pan, as irresponsible as that decision might have been. There is more to the story that is still developing.
That’s because, when New Jersey decided not to increase its summer flounder size limit from 18 to 19 inches, as ASMFC required, it argued that it was offsetting the impact of its smaller minimum size by shortening its summer flounder season from 128 to 104 days. That season thus ended on September 5, the day after Labor Day. That leaves New Jersey anglers with little to do, since the state’s black sea bass season closed on August 31, and won’t open again until the 22nd of October.
Such enforced idleness shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. On May 21, well before New Jersey’s summer flounder regulations were finally determined, The Fisherman magazine noted that
“it’s…the first time in 7 years that New Jersey has been limited to a Memorial Day to Labor Day season. However, when the state was forced to cut the fluke season after Labor Day in 2010, New Jersey anglers were also allowed to fish for black sea bass in September.”
The article made it clear that such option would not be available this year.
Regardless of that fact, The Fisherman celebrated the Commerce Secretary’s decision to approve New Jersey’s noncompliant regulations, announcing it in a piece that was titled
The same article reported that
“While not every angler in New Jersey is happy with the loss of season in September, Jim Donofrio of the Recreational Fishing Alliance said that the decision by the Trump administration, notably Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, represents a big win for coastal fishermen.”
Based on such reactions, one might reasonably assume that the New Jersey angling community decided that it was worth trading a smaller summer flounder size limit for significantly reduced fishing opportunities during September, and accepted the fact that they would be sidelined for part of the fall. That’s the sort of decision that a responsible adult might well have made.
But to believe that, one would have to forget that New Jersey remains the salt water angler’s Neverland, where everyone wants to have their irresponsible fun, and no one wants to grow up and assume a mature man’s (or woman’s) burdens.
Thus, it was probably predictable that a more recent article in The Fisherman, this one dated September 4, announced a meeting of New Jersey’s Marine Fisheries Council, and suggesting that anglers should show up and demand that the Council endorse opening a state-waters black sea bass season that would begin immediately and run through October 21.
Opening such a season would, for the second time this year, take New Jersey out of compliance with an ASMFC fishery management plan. However, because of the time lags involved, it would be impossible to effectively sanction the state for such action.
And, besides, even if ASMFC did try to penalize the state for its failure to cooperate with everyone else, the Commerce Department’s summer flounder decision gives reason to believe that, if challenged, New Jersey would prevail once again.
Thus, The Fisherman wrote that
“In a press release sent out before the Labor Day weekend, the Recreational Fishing Alliance called the period between the [sic] September 6 and October 21 a regulatory ‘dead zone,’ while encouraging anglers to attend the Marine Fisheries Council meeting on Thursday and show support for the Council in taking action to open a limited fall fishery for black sea bass in state waters effective immediately.”
Apparently, the shortened fluke season wasn’t as much of a “big win” as RFA’s Donofrio originally announced. Now, the organization is asking the state to go out of compliance again in order to correct a problem created when it went out of compliance in the first place—an action that Donofrio heralded at the time.
Does that sound like fully-mature adults taking responsibility for the consequences of the initial decision to go out of compliance? Or like a gaggle of puer aeterni—a bunch of Peter Pans—who oppose “boundaries and limits, and…find any restriction intolerable,” and reflexively resist needed rules?
Such attitudes seem to have deep roots in the Garden State, where some anglers have just created a Facebook group called the “NJFFFR New Jersey Fishermen Fight for Fishermen’s Rights” (note the emphasis on “rights” without any mention of concomitant “responsibilities,” as the latter are strictly an adult’s concern).
Perusing the group’s Facebook page, I discovered a poster who said
“I’ve been a mate on a 4 hour party boat for the past 5 years in wildwood…Normally during the summer, I work 3 trips a day. In the short span of time I’ve worked, even I can notice the alarming decrease in fish populations. Some days, I’d fillet less than 10 legal fish the entire day. Some days, we would fish for the doggies, the skates and the sea robins [all generally considered unwanted “trash fish”] just to give the tourists something to fish for. It’s absolutely pathetic. Beach replenishment killed our fishing, yet the government still wants to blame us, the little guys. The government going after recreational fishermen is an absolute joke. If the government had their way, nobody would be fishing.”
He sees, and acknowledges, a real problem with the health of fish stocks. Yet he still denies any obligation to be a part of the solution, blaming government and refusing to admit that recreational fishermen have any responsibility for conserving the resource.
Peter Pan, indeed.