The Fish Story

Welcoming Back the Original NJ Fishermen; CHANJ Seeks to Get Nature Together Again

By JAY MANN | Nov 28, 2018

WELCOME, LENAPE: Just a quick and highly-belated welcome officially home to the state’s 3,000-member Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation. The Lenape were the first of NJ’s “local” fishermen, dating back many an eon.

Trenton has just announced, via Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, that a legal settlement has been worked out whereby New Jersey has legally and officially recognized the American Indian tribe … since 1982. Huh?

No, that isn’t me writing in an unclear manner. The state has essentially legally backtracked to formally accept the tribe in a way that will allow it to be historically recognized, a flashback move that garners the tribe a total of $2.4 million under a settlement agreement. The state has also agreed to formally notify all relevant state and federal agencies of the tribe’s full state of recognition.

In formal legal language out of Trenton, there was due confusion over the tribe’s being, existentially speaking. That thought-moot point eventually reared up in the U.S. General Accounting Office, which had been advised by Trenton that the Garden State recognized no native American tribes. For the members of that historic tribe still living here, that offered an ax to grind – seeing they were here long before Trenton was even named same.

The recent recognition qualifies the tribe for federal and state benefits provided by the national Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. Not for nothing, but you’d think the namers of congressional acts could have come up with something more dignified than the “Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990.”

“Tribal rights are important rights, and through this settlement we’ve been able to affirm the status of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Nation as an American Indian Tribe formally recognized by the State,” said Attorney General Grewal. “As a result of this settlement, there is no more ambiguity regarding the Tribe’s official status, and the Tribe’s forward progress cannot be impeded by any State-related recognition issues. I’m heartened that, through good faith negotiation, we’ve been able to resolve this matter fairly and bring an end to years of legal dispute.”

Oh, it should be added that this official state recognition does not provide the tribe with federal casino gaming rights. To its credit, the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation declaimed any interest in casino gaming rights.

A TRUNKS-UP FOR JERSEY: Devastatingly unhappy. I saw and felt exactly that among the animals in a circus I once helped to breakdown after local performances. Between my carrying equipment to awaiting Somebody-and-Somebody Circus trucks, I snuck over and efforted a touch of human kindness to the caged or chained circus creatures. It got depressing real fast. Their eyes were as empty as the peanut shells strewn all over the ground by departing circus-goers. There was nothing humane to be done, as the show trucked off to the next town … endless next towns. C'est la vie de cirque.

It turns out I was far from the only compassionate soul who saw the cruelty in forced labor for circus creatures. Our entire state did. In an admirable statement opposing what is best described as a crowd-pleasing form of animal cruelty, we just became the first state in the nation to ban live animals at circuses.

Yes, animal-toting/torturing circuses will drearily slog on to less stringent showtime venues in 49 other states. Even with last year’s closing down of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, after a stellar 146-year run, there are a slew of less name-famed circuses in America, some of which are under the gun for promoting cruelty to animals. Among those targeted by are Carson & Barnes Circus, Garden Bros. Circus, Kelly Miller Circus, Shrine Circuses and Jordan World Circus.

OF NOTE: In my past blasting of animalized circuses, I was taken to task by certain circus folks who swear they treat their animals like saints. I ended up saluting them and their beloved beasts of semi-burden. I did suggest that they are in the minority – which they didn’t deny.

NJ’s “No Animals” action is far from a full-blown circus ban. Neither NJ nor I are taking umbrage with bearded ladies, full bodily-tattooed sailors, sword-swallowing deepthroats or entire Big Top families teetering on high-wires or insanely swinging from trapezes. Those circusy job titles are coolly old-school and admittedly mesmerizing. But those lifestyles/occupations are chosen by the performers. The Garden State simply wants things to remain human and humane when it comes to the thrilling of ogling audiences. I’ll also center-stage the fact I’m a rapt fan of the newest wrinkle in circustry, namely the profoundly spellbinding artistry of Cirque du Soleil, which has reignited the Greatest Show on Earth aura.

DEFRACTURING NJ: Our once gardenesque state likely contains the most fragmented wilderness areas in the nation. Urbanization and suburbanization have left NJ’s open spaces and wooded areas looking like a Jim Croce jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces gone. Naturally, the ongoing fragmentation forces many forms of indigenous wildlife to grudgingly accept the olden saying, “You can’t get there from here.”

Every bit of buildout, which we see in spades hereabouts, further separates wildlife from adjacent wilderness areas, making it impossible to access vital resources, like food, open territory and, most vitally, others of their own ilk, in a carry-on-the-species way.

The growing degrees of habitat separation has forced the state to undertake a last-ditch effort to map and eventually reconnect sundry natural areas. Enter a program titled Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey (CHANJ). It is described by the lead agency, the NJDEP, as “an emerging statewide effort, launched in 2012, with the vision of making our landscape and roadways more permeable to wildlife movement.”

The simplicity of the program’s name belies the complexity of connecting natural environments while developers simultaneously whittle the wilderness into a further state of disconnect for both flora and fauna. While most of NJ’s residents speak out in support of preserving wild areas, little is really being done by towns, as they insatiably hunger for the increased tax revenues gained by build-out.

Per DEP’s Fish and Wildlfie Division (see, “Whether they’re small like a salamander or big and wide-roaming like a bear, animals need to be able to move through the landscape to find food, shelter, mates, and other resources. Without that ability to move, healthy populations simply will not persist over the long term. Here in New Jersey, wildlife are up against steady urbanization, a dense network of roads, and now a changing climate, all of which put the connectedness of our habitats and wildlife populations in jeopardy.”

Toward that vision, CHANJ offers a blueprint for strategic habitat conservation, which includes “a statewide map depicting areas crucial for habitat connectivity, and a menu of implementation actions, relating to each identified corridor that will provide guidance on how to secure, or restore each corridor.”

“These products are intended to help land-use managers, conservationists, and transportation planners to work in a more proactive and collaborative way that reduces conflicts, saves time and money, and ultimately improves the long-term prospects for NJ’s terrestrial wildlife. These products may also be useful in pinpointing areas for wildlife habitat mitigation work,” reads the website.

Virtually all of us can relate to the ugly look of habitat disconnects via failed efforts by wildlife to cross the roadways between tracts of, well, their land. In a vague effort to lessen such road-top flattenings, highway departments place warnings, most famously deer crossing signs, which solicit the sarcastic comment, “How do the deer know to cross at those signs?” Quite true. They don’t. Equally unhelpful are “Egret Crossing” signs over at Stafford Forge and the purely symbolic “Terrapin Crossing” signs on highspeed roadways. There is a folksy air to a “Turkey Crossing” sign down Bass River way.

The problem with signage is obvious: Nobody slows down – or mentally prepares – one iota. I’ll go thoroughly acerbic by suggesting signs should have cute little wildlife cyphers and read: “Here’s What You’ll Be Running Over Today.”

MY PRE-CHANJ EFFORTS: A goodly number of years back, I facilitated the connectivity cause by helping to dig a culvert along a roadway in a herptile area, famed for pancaked road snakes. The culvert led to a large under-road pipe/tunnel, placed by the state to control runoff. The intent was to guide wildlife to a less rubber-oriented road-crossing point. While I haven’t stopped back there since, it’s remains a highly natural area so our effort is likely still in place.

Studies being done on under-road wildlife tunnels focus on an obvious problem, namely, what about creatures beyond the attraction range of a tunnel. They pretty much remain on their own, crossing-wise. However, further research indicates a telling semi-natural selectivity concept activates around wildlife conduits and such. Creatures lucky enough to home in on these manmade passageways not only survive but proliferate in a site-specific manner. Through something called habitat fidelity, an entire population of a species essentially espouses an existence wherein culverts become an integral part of their lives and times. Might this suggest that the more tunnels and culverts … the merrier? Hmmm. Let’s just say logic dictates same.

Along those same habitat fidelity lines, many creatures live quite happily in a small natural area. This points out the extreme value of maintaining even small parcels of wilderness areas, while creating the CHANJ-targeted continuity with adjacent natural areas. More on this effort as it materializes in an unfragmenting manner.

RUNDOWN: Lo and behold, a few entry-level stripers have recently been entered into the LBI Surf Fishing Classic. Despite the modest size of those fish, they’re up for some nice prizes, thus the need to re-repeat the Classic fact that size doesn’t matter so much in this year's event, i.e. simply catching a bass is a prize-worthy feat. A bass of 28 inches and beyond is most likely golden.

The latest Classic weigh-ins bring the event’s total striper take to 38 bass ... in 53 days as of Tuesday, Nov. 27. Sure, that hookup rate is slower than a sick sea cucumber crawling along the ocean bottom, but it might be likened to the subtle fascination of a thoroughly-defensive basketball game, or a pitchers’ duel in baseball or your average soccer game. However, as recently as 1974, over 1,000 bass came to the scales in a then-six-week tourney. This year, we have at least beaten out the Sandy-year un-Classic tourney, when only 18 fish were taken – amid floating debris.

There’s no way to sensibly speak of the Classic bluefish no-show. Not a single entry to date. Inconceivable. Ponder the fact that we had a fine run of big blues just last spring; even more so the previous spring. In 1986, the contest saw 2,066 blues being entered. And those came during just a few-week period. What has befallen the fall bluefish bite in just two decades, a mere time-splash in fishery time?

Should the Classic revert back to the “Derby” days, when a new 4WD vehicle or a fine Bayrunner-ish boat could be won? That would add high intrigue to the concept of a Grand Prize fish arriving in a small package.

By the by, such a super Classic first prize might be on the event’s radar. Of course, to keep things surfcastingly fair, a big winner would be mandatorily polygraphed. That is no longer a biggy, whatsoever. Virtually every big-game tourney, some with million-dollar first prizes, demand mega-winners go on “the box,” a street term for the polygraph. Hell, we have a couple top polygraphers right in our area.

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