On April 25, New Jersey’s for-hire community make international headlines when the conservative website Breitbart.com published a story titled Coronavirus Lockdown Devastates Jersey Shore’s Historic Fishing Boat Industry.
The coronavirus pandemic poses an existential threat to the already beleaguered for-hire fishing boat industry in New Jersey, captains of party boats along the Jersey shore told Breitbart News. “The business owners are urging both state and federal governments to allow them to make a living or help them survive the lockdown,” wrote Breitbart International News Editor Frances Martel.
Captains speaking with Martel in the Breitbart piece expressed frustration in how state and federal officials have handled their relationship with the recreational fishing industry, not just with regard to COVID-19 but on top of federal fisheries regulations as well.
“I don’t have any words to justify everything that’s going on, I really don’t,” Capt. Bob Rush, Jr., whose Starfish sails out of Sea Isle City, New Jersey, told Breitbart News in an interview. “I’m all for making sure that everybody is healthy, health is number one, but also, in turn, people have to work, people have to be able to pay their bills. And with everything shut down like this…I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life and I never want to see it again,” Rush lamented.
“It used to be a fun business to be in, it really was. Believe it or not, it’s not any fun anymore, because everything is a hassle, the price of everything, the regulations, they destroyed it,” Capt. Rob Semkewyc of the Atlantic Highlands based Seahunter told Breitbart News. The captain says expenses are so high with no source of income or help from the government that he may “just pull it [the Seahunter] out, it might be cheaper to keep it on land” since the marina will “charge me like I’m doing business, and I’m not.”
“Right now we should be fishing for striped bass but we can’t do that because of the restrictions,” Capt. Bob Bogan of the Gambler out Point Pleasant Beach said. “And we understand to a point, but there’s got to be something they can do to help us out. They’re not giving us money, they’re not saying ‘here’s some money and stay home.’”
According to the Breitbart article, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) records show as many as 50 party boats closed up shop in New Jersey between 1996 and 2019. Congress passed the Sustainable Fisheries Act in 1996, which granted sweeping powers to federal regulators to limit how much recreational fishermen could catch.