NJ's Access Fight - The Fisherman

NJ’s Access Fight

Waves crashing onto a sandy beach; standing on the rocks of an inlet jetty; casting into the shadow lines of one of the many bridges we have crossing over to the barrier islands; perhaps just walking the muddy marsh and sod banks to get to where a feeder creek dumps into a larger body of water. These are my angling happy places, and the happy places of many of New Jersey’s “land based” anglers.

While there’s always much debate and discussion regarding current fishery regulations the single most important issue facing land-based anglers today is access. Too often municipalities give away or sell access points, limit parking, create curfews, or hang signs preventing the public’s right to access tidal waters. And way too often state and federal tax monies are used for infrastructure or beach replenishment projects that don’t guarantee existing, or improve on, current public access points.

Not all spots are created equal and having access to legally fish the places where bait and gamefish frequent most is paramount to land based anglers and why I agreed to attend and participate in a series of “Public Access Task Force” meetings back in 2016. The goal of the task force was simple, provide a bullet point list of “consent” and “non-consent” items that various groups felt were important to include in any proposed Public Access legislation for consideration in Trenton. As you can imagine the “wants” of the angling groups present differed greatly from those of the building trade groups, some municipalities, and others.

After much debate and hard work on behalf of the American Littoral Society, NY/NJ Baykeeper, and others and some behind the scenes lobbying by the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) bills A4221/S1074 were passed in near unanimous votes by New Jersey’s general assembly and senate on March 25, 2019. The legislation wording is angler friendly and essentially puts the Public Trust Doctrine into New Jersey law, making clear that the public has a legal right to access and enjoy tidal waters in the State of New Jersey. A huge win and something land-based anglers have coveted for a long, long time.

A4221/S1074 gives the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) authority to now enact regulations which tackle and address numerous issues facing land-based anglers such as limited parking, towns vacating street ends, lack of facilities, and non-maintenance of necessary dune/bulkhead walk overs that are needed to access the water’s edge. It also allows them to force new or improved access when public tax monies are spent on various projects. A4221/S1074 is the “teeth” NJDEP didn’t have in 2015 when the prior access legislation was defeated in court.

But we’re not over the finish line just yet, land-based anglers need to call or email Governor Murphy and urge him to sign A4221/S1074 into state law. Then we land-based anglers need to force NJDEP to use these new “teeth” to enact regulations that will not only preserve current access points, but improve the public’s access to tidal waters for the generations of anglers to come.

As the father of three young boys I’ll keep fighting for them, and their right to fish the places I’ve fished over the past 30 plus years. Maybe even get them access to spots I haven’t been allowed to fish in the past. Hopefully others will consider joining the fight as well.

The author is president of the Association of Surf Angling Clubs, vice president of both the Merchantville Fishing Club and Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic, and the Access Representative for the Recreational Fishing Alliance.

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