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New Jersey curbside tackle delivery is allowed; fishing in groups of any size with anyone other than immediate family is not! Get full details on the ins and outs of fishing through COVID-19 in the Garden State.
By Jim Hutchinson  |  April 7, 2020
Social distancing New Jersey anglers looking to bank on a few spring stripers can find bloodworms through curbside delivery at their favorite tackle shop when calling in orders ahead of pickup. Photo by Jim Hutchinson, Jr.

As first reported in the Atlantic City Press online late Monday night, "you can still get your bait by the curb." The April 6th story by editor Mike Shepherd cited replies sent by Atlantic County legislators.

The Fisherman Magazine followed up with sources in Trenton on Tuesday morning but was unable to verify policy specifics through the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). However an email from the office of Sen. Chris Brown (R-Atlantic) to John Depersenaire at the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) late Tuesday afternoon confirmed the following message from the governor’s office, "Marianas (sic) are not retail so they can continue to operate. Bait and tackle shops can do curbside pickup."

The announcement is welcome news to retail fishing businesses that didn’t make the original “essential business” listing issued by Governor Murphy in his March 21 executive order and comes less than a week after the NJDEP commissioner Catherine McCabe announced during the governor’s March 31 press briefing on COVID-19 that New Jersey’s 2020 trout season would officially open on April 1 to catch and release fishing.

“Trout season will open, 10 days early tomorrow, Wednesday, April 1 for catch and release only,” McCabe said during the Tuesday afternoon briefing, adding “This is to help us, to help you maintain safe, social distance while fishing.”

McCabe spoke of the importance of “passive recreation” activities like fishing, while stressing the need for social distancing when fishing. “We’ve released the state-raised trout early to disperse them before fishing season opens so that you can disperse too as you move out to catch them, instead of everyone gathering around the hatchery on day one of the trout season which is traditional,” Commissioner McCabe said at the televised Tuesday press briefing, adding “If you find others gathered at your favorite fishing hole consider trying a new location this year.”

Regrettably, the governor also announced on April 7 during his daily COVID-19 press briefing that he was signing an executive order to "close all state and county parks" while leaving local towns and municipalities to make a determination on their own local parks. "I do not take this action lightly," the governor said while extending the public health emergency that was initially declared on March 9 by an additional 30 days.

NJDEP and its Division of Fish and Wildlife continue advising anglers to keep a 6-foot distance between others, which according to McCabe is the approximate length of the average fishing rod. Anglers are reminded that the official opening day of New Jersey trout season is Saturday, April 11 when anglers are allowed limited trout harvest depending on waters fished in the Garden State.

As per the email from state Senator Brown's office, bait and tackle shops in the state that adhere to strict “social distancing” policies can continue to provide angling essentials for those fishing for tautog, winter flounder, striped bass, trout and other species. That means folks looking for bloodworms for the current run of bass and flounder, green crabs for April blackfish or nightcrawlers for stocked rainbows will be able to call their local tackle shop in advance to process orders by phone, and then pick up those deliveries curbside, as is being done with other “essential” business like food takeout.

“Recreational anglers and all fishing related businesses in the state of New Jersey are extremely appreciative of Governor Murphy and his administration for acknowledging the broad value of recreational fishing to the citizens of the state and the economy,” said RFA executive director Jim Donofrio. On Monday, March 23, Donofrio sent an official waiver request to Col. Patrick J. Callahan, Superintendent of New Jersey State Police, seeking essential status designation for the recreational fishing community during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Providing clear guidance that tackle shops and other retail shops that outfit recreational fishermen can continue to operate while abiding by social distancing and other directives contained in Executive Order 107 is much needed good news during this extremely trying period of time,” Donofrio said, adding “It is now the responsibility of shop owners and anglers to strictly follow social distancing guidelines while fishing.”

As with the state’s freshwater fishery, saltwater anglers are encouraged to keep a proper social distance between other anglers and avoid locations where other anglers are already fishing. On April 3, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife posted a set of COVID-19 fishing guidelines which stated, “Consistent with Governor Murphy's orders that all New Jerseyans practice social distancing in order to limit the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19), anglers must fish alone or with immediate family members and cannot fish in groups of any size (no matter how small), either on land or by boat.” The official state guidelines also require a minimum 6-foot social distance between anglers at all times.

NJ.com reported on Monday that a “large gathering” on Saturday prompted officials in Keyport to shut down its waterfront and close municipal parking lots in the immediate area of the Raritan Bay. The story by Jeff Goldman noted that fishing will no longer be permitted on the promenade, though anglers can still fish from the pier as long as they keep at least 6 feet apart. As to whether or not it was a “large gathering” of fishermen that prompted the decision by Keyport officials is unknown. “Police in Keyport didn’t return messages so I’m not really sure,” Goldman said via email, adding “The wording in the town’s statement was vague.”

As for party and charter boat operators, a Spring 2020 Hunting and Fishing FAQs sheet posted by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife on April 2 is not so vague, stating that for-hire operators are not allowed to take customers fishing during the COVID-19 crisis.

Starting April 1, New Jersey’s striped bass regulations for coastal waters are one fish at 28 to less than 38 inches in length; for those fishing along the Delaware River from the Salem River to the Calhoun Street Bridge in Trenton there is a mandatory circle hook regulation in place until June 1 with no harvest of striped bass allowed during the spring spawn. The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife also stated that due to the unprecedented situation with COVID-19, the May 15 opening of the Striped Bass Bonus Program (SBBP) may be delayed, and applications are not currently being accepted.

New Jersey's spring tautog fishery is also open for the month of April with a four-fish bag and 15-inch size limit.

More information for NJ, PA, DE and NY on fishing through the COVID-19 crisis as reported at The Fisherman Magazine, updated regularly.