Fishing Through It - The Fisherman

Fishing Through It

I never cared much for the term sportfishing; seems a lot like playing organized ball without keeping score.  I was brought up in a hunting/fishing family, taught through my father by many grandfathers before to kill only what I planned to eat.  I know some serious sportfishermen who would ignore the harvest aspect of fishing, but the supermarket images at the height of the Coronavirus outbreak – hoarding, selfishness and fistfights over toilet paper – it all just brings the reality of a hunter/angler upbringing into pretty stark focus.

As I started writing these thoughts on the morning of March 21, New Jersey governor Phil Murphy was hours from a decision to close “non-essential” businesses.  By federal definition, a recreational fisherman fishes not only for fun, but also for home consumption and sustenance; that same legally recognized federal definition also recognizes those businesses (tackle shops, for-hire boats, marinas) that cater to recreational fishermen.  As I posted to Facebook that morning, “I hope the governor and his staff will consider leaving it up to those recreational fishing business owners to decide for themselves whether or not to remain operational through this crisis.  Being able to provide for one’s family is essential, and teaching children how to provide is equally essential, perhaps even more so during a crisis.”

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I think that such shop businesses should be forced to remain open as essential, it’s just that I strongly believe they should be given an allowance to make an essential determination for themselves on behalf of the communities they serve.  Some shops I know for example do solid business with local municipalities providing foul weather gear and supplies, items one might deem essential in a crisis; by that token, bait and tackle is equally critical to those fishing for subsistence.

During the afternoon of the 21st, Gov. Murphy ordered state residents to stay at home, closing down non-essential brick and mortar retail business.  I scoured the executive order and state-run Coronavirus website ( in search of loopholes, finding only essential business described as grocery and convenience stores, farms and farmer’s markets, food and grocery stores; convenience stores; pharmacies, medical supply stores, and medical marijuana dispensaries; gas stations; hardware and home improvement stores; vehicle rental locations; banks and other financial institutions with retail functions; laundromats and dry-cleaners; stores that principally sell supplies for children under five years; pet stores and veterinary service locations; auto maintenance and repair; printing and office supply; mail and delivery stores; and liquor stores.  Also exempted by the governor’s decree were “manufacturing, industrial, logistics, ports, heavy construction, shipping, food production, food delivery, and other commercial operations, so long as those businesses limit staff on site to the minimal number to ensure essential operations.”

A caveat enabled retailers who see their businesses as uniquely essential to appeal for an allowance, prompting the Recreational Fishing Alliance to respond with an official waiver request to Col. Patrick J. Callahan, Superintendent of New Jersey State Police, asking that the recreational fishing industry be granted “essential” status similar to New Jersey’s commercial sector.  Though garden suppliers and bike repairs were later added to the governor’s list of allowable business, as of March 26 there was still no formal allowance for curbside delivery of essential bait and tackle supplies.  In a tale of two states, Delaware advised, “Avoid close-contact activities.  Instead, fish, hike, paddle board, ride a bicycle or explore nature.”

Gov. Murphy’s order did allow for “engaging in outdoor activities with immediate family members, caretakers, household members, or romantic partners while following best social distancing practices with other individuals, including staying six feet apart.”  I think that directive is pretty clear on where we stand on safely and responsibly fishing through the COVID-19 crisis.  Just pay particular attention to any added town restrictions, be sure to avoid crowds and practice social distancing, stay tuned to the news for emergency updates, and remember, ultimately, this too shall pass.


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