Square Dancers Unite! - The Fisherman

Square Dancers Unite!

How would you like to show off your passion for striper fishing while supporting marine conservation efforts in the state of New Jersey through a specialty license plate emblazoned with an image of a striped bass?  Well good for you, but you can’t.  Sure, if you’re into square dancing you can get one of those; bowhunters too can get their own plate, as can folks who support the right to life.  A striped bass license plate however does not exist in New Jersey, sorry. 

On the other hand, if you live in Delaware or New York, you can get a striped bass plate on the back of your vehicle, with proceeds used to enhance saltwater fishing opportunities in those states.  Same with Massachusetts where monies from the striped bass license plate go to help fund projects and activities for the conservation of saltwater fish, with a focus on striped bass.

Strangely, New Jersey is the only state of the three where striped bass is a true gamefish, not allowed to be commercially harvested in state waters nor sold in fish markets and restaurants.  One might assume that a state where engineers, Teamsters, Kiwanis, Rotarians and NASCAR fans are all able to get a specialty license plate, that one could also choose a plate that supports New Jersey’s only no-sale gamefish.  I know, one shouldn’t ever assume.

There have been efforts over the years to secure a striped bass license plate in New Jersey.  I was personally involved in the effort while working full-time at the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA).  That was when the New Jersey legislature had passed the free angler registry, and our hope was to implement this and a few other programs to allow sportsmen to opt in to supporting marine resources as opposed to being locked in on a license fee that could never have been protected short of a constitutional amendment against political plundering. 

Suffice to say, we were a bit shocked at the number of folks who turned out in opposition and fought against the plate, including one high-ranking member of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) who has since left the state.  Each department in Trenton blamed another for the inability to launch the initiative, from the DEP on out to the Division of Motor Vehicles and Department of Transportation (DOT).

More than a decade since first launching the push for a striped bass plate in New Jersey, I thought the issue pretty much died on the vine due to political indifference.  However, I reached out to my former coworker at RFA, John Depersenaire, who recently told me the holdup wasn’t so much capital politics, but actual the politics of capital (i.e., cash).

“I believe we could actually do a striped bass license plate just that DOT would require an entity to pay for the pressing die for the striped bass license plate and the first 20,000 license plates, though I could be off on the number of plates,” Depersenaire said.

In New York, a Marine and Coastal District plate depicting a striped bass leaping from the surf at Montauk requires registrants to pay an additional renewal fee every two years, a portion of which goes into a separate fund called the Conservation, Education, and Research Fund of the Marine and Coastal District of NY.  By law, monies from that fund after appropriation, “may be expended only for conservation, research, and education projects relating to the marine and coastal district of New York.”

Personally, I’d love to slap a striped bass license plate on the back of my truck to support marine fisheries in the state of New Jersey.  On the other hand, I’m not about to pony up for the initial pressing of 20,000 license plates; I’m not sure I’d willingly hand in my square dancing plates either. 

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