Longtime contributor Dave Anderson recently authored a surf column in our April 23 weekly edition about Responsible Recreation, Casting & Covid. I think Dave hit on a lot of strong points about responsibly fishing through the crisis to preserve public access, but I have to respectfully disagree with his statement that “Fishing is a privilege” and “not an inalienable right.”
Technically of course he’s correct, especially in New Jersey where we have been reminded almost daily that any deviation from the “social distancing” guidelines will lead to access “privileges” being revoked. Theoretically speaking I’d love to see recreational fishing given more of a rightful due, especially considering that commercial fishing was tabbed “essential” during COVID-19 and will probably be allowed in any future crisis, while anglers and recreational fishing businesses have been left standing along the sidelines.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) says there are 21 states nationwide that guarantee the right to hunt and fish in their constitutions, with Vermont dating back to the 1700s and the other 20 having been approved by voters. NCSL said Florida and New Hampshire statutorily recognize the right to hunt and fish, while California and Rhode Island have constitutional provisions protecting the right to fish, but not to hunt.
Previous efforts to pass a national Right to Fish law failed in part when some folks refused to accept commercial fishing in the argument. Personally, I think that’s just throwing the baby out with the bath water, especially when you consider how the recent “essential business” guidelines in New Jersey allowed commercial fishing to continue while the for-hire fleet was left shuttered. We often complain that commercial folks have more power than we do, yet given any chance to get on equal ground we turn up our noses and stomp off in righteous defiance; a lot of good that’s done!
There are currently two pieces of legislation in Trenton – Assembly bill #ACR14 and matching Senate version #SCR100 – proposing to amend the State Constitution to preserve the right to fish, hunt, trap and harvest fish, and wildlife. Sponsored in the Senate by Steven Oroho from District 24, and on the Assembly side by District 24 legislators Harold Wirths and Parker Space with co-sponsor Nancy Munoz from District 21, the proposals would amend Article I of the State Constitution by adding the following:
“Fishing, hunting, trapping and the harvesting of fish and wildlife are a valued part of the State’s heritage and the right of the people to fish, hunt, trap and harvest fish and wildlife shall be forever preserved. Fish and wildlife shall be managed by laws and regulations that provide persons with the continued opportunity to take, by traditional means and methods, species traditionally pursued by fishermen, hunters and trappers. Fish and wildlife management shall be consistent with the State’s duty to protect this heritage and its duty to conserve fish and wildlife for the recreational enjoyment of future generations, including but not limited to, fishermen, hunters and trappers. The taking of fish and wildlife by fishermen, hunters and trappers, by traditional means and methods, shall always be a preferred and available way of controlling all invasive or overpopulated species.”
Should this proposed amendment to the Constitution be agreed upon by Trenton legislators, it would be presented to New Jersey voters in the general election. The chances? Well, getting positive traction in the 40-member Senate and 80-member General Assembly is slim, while chances are reasonably close to none on seeing a majority vote in favor by all registered voters across all 21 counties.
Support the right to fish? Call your local Senate and Assembly office and ask the team to co-sponsor #ACR14 and #SCR100. At the very least, it’s a first step towards fishing through the next pandemic or zombie apocalypse.