Lost in this summer’s regulatory mire – proposed speed restrictions for boats 35 feet and over, and a proposed national marine sanctuary designation for the Hudson Canyon for starters – are the restrictive access mandates and proposals in municipalities at the Jersey Shore related to beach fishing.
For years, Deal residents in Monmouth County have been trying to privatize town streets to keep beach-goers (like fishermen) from accessing their newly replenished beaches. This exclusionary effort has kept access advocates on their toes and frequently speaking out against the plans by some to effectively privatize taxpayer-subsidized beaches.
And on August 8, surfcasters in Sea Isle City learned that town leaders had amended the rules and regulations for beach fishing (Ordinance 20-1.1.a.23) to prohibit all shore-based shark fishing, “on, or near the beaches and within 600 feet of the beaches of the City of Sea Isle City.” The new ordinance defines shore-based shark fishing as:
“any person targeting or harvesting sharks from shore (beach), including from any structure attached to the shore (beach) including, but not limited to, piers, jetties, and bridges. The prohibition shall include shore-based shark fishing by chumming/blood-baiting, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), or with the assistance/use of any water vessel by any person or in concert with others within the City of Sea Isle City. ‘Unmanned aerial vehicle’ means any aerial vehicle that is operated without the possibility of direct human intervention within or on the aerial vehicle.”
According to official press release from the Cape May County town, the possession of chum, vessels, and/or drones on the beaches in conjunction with fishing gear shall create a presumption of impermissible fishing, punishable by fine of up to $1,250 if convicted. The good news was that the release also stated, “The City will contact the local fishing community and the surfing community to look at long term solutions to shark fishing off the City shore to ensure reasonable regulations promoting the continued long term harmonious sharing of surfing and fishing beaches by the stakeholders in these desired beach activities,” which offers a silver lining for future diplomacy.
At about the same time, the Township of Brick in Ocean County was in the middle of amending their own Beach Management Plan to restrict beach access by permitted buggy operators. On July 26, the Brick Township Council took up the second reading of a new ordinance they said was brought about at the request of the U.S. Department of Interior and its U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to shorten the beach buggy season by 45 days, restricting buggy access after March 15 instead of April 30 as the ordinance currently allows.
Brick Township Mayor John Ducey stated his support for beach access and fishing rights, but cited concerns over USFWS limiting beach replenishment funding should the township not comply with efforts to protect an endangered plant species known as seabeach amaranth. I and a few surfcasting buddies spoke at the meeting, and council members unanimously responded by tabling the ordinance until a compromise could be worked; at that point, there were a lot of back channel discussions with everyone from congressional offices to USFWS staff.
On August 23, the Brick Township Council approved a revised ordinance leaving the April 30th end date in place, while adding that “no motor vehicle or all-terrain vehicle shall be permitted to operate on or near plant-protected areas before November 30.” There were many hands which helped make relatively short work of this effort – including Rep. Andy Kim’s congressional office as well as the American Sportfishing Association – it’s a reminder that democracy is no spectator sport. That said, it’s important for all of us to keep a watchful eye; the hits keep coming, and we need to be ready to take center stage when it comes to stand in defense of public access.