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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Who Supports the Free Saltwater Registry in Cape May County?

Open Letter From RFA’s Managing Director to Cape May County Herald

The Cape May County Herald seems to be missing the boat a bit on reporting back to readers about the federal requirements for a saltwater registry (click here to read Herald columnist Caroline Miller’s April 1 opinion.)

Here are the facts. Federal law signed by President Bush in 2007 requires that the Secretary of Commerce establish and implement a regionally based registry program for recreational fishermen in each of the eight fishery management regions. The program, which shall not require a fee before January 1, 2011, shall provide for the registration - including identification and contact information - of individuals who engage in recreational fishing in state coastal waters when fishing for anadromous species such as striped bass, shad and river herring, or when fishing out beyond the three-mile limit in federal waters.

New Jersey residents and non-residents alike who will be fishing in coastal waters this season and will “fish for or are likely to catch anadromous species in tidal and salt waters,” will need to first visit http://www.countmyfish.noaa.gov/ or call 888-674-7411 to register with the federal government, free of charge. This information is available at most every tackle shop in Cape May County, including those I recently visited including Jim’s Bait and Tackle, Hand’s Too Bait and Tackle, Utsch’s Bait and Tackle and No Bones Bait and Tackle.

For the record, each one of these Cape May County bait and tackle shops is opposed to a saltwater fishing license, and has officially signed on to support efforts to ensure that a saltwater registry is established by the state of New Jersey as of 2011, and that it’s kept free for all users.

Since 1996, the Recreational Fishing Alliance has represented saltwater anglers and the recreational fishing industry on marine fisheries issues across the country. Based in southern New Jersey for over 14 years, the RFA boasts a strong 10,000-member chapter in the Garden State, with our RFA-NJ Board of Directors comprised of more than a dozen individual saltwater anglers and New Jersey marine business owners, including top local captains. The RFA and its members in New Jersey support a free saltwater registry.

The Marine Trades Association of New Jersey (MTA/NJ) is a non-profit trade organization dedicated to promoting and protecting the recreational marine industry and waterways in the State of New Jersey. MTA/NJ is the watchdog for the state’s vast marine industry and is comprised of over 330 marine related businesses. The MTA/NJ serves as the voice of the recreational boater throughout New Jersey. MTA/NJ supports a free saltwater registry.

The United Boatmen is an organization in New Jersey which has represented the interests and rights of party and charter boat operators for over 30 years. United Boatmen supports a free saltwater registry.

Surfcasters, boaters, tackle shops, party and charter boat captains, marina owners, fishing magazine publishers, and livery operators up and down the coast of New Jersey are supporting free registry legislation in New Jersey and have pledged their support of a saltwater registry, either through MTA/NJ, United Boatmen, RFA-NJ, or by signing on to a pledge form now being circulated throughout the New Jersey fishing community. Take marine business professionals like Rick Traber for example, owner of Pier 47 Marine in Wildwood and Board President of the MTA/NJ. Mr. Traber believes strongly that his summertime boat rental business would take a serious hit if customers learned that in addition to the boat cost and fuel, they’d also have to ask everyone in the family to pay a fee in order to fish.

You can also ask Ernie Utsch, III about what would happen when the casual fisherman and his family down for the weekend learn that in addition to bait, tackle and a couple of new rod & reel outfits, dad would have to plunk down cash for a saltwater user fee at Utsch’s Marina. Same can be said if you talk to Jim Wallace at Jim’s, Nick at Hand’s Too, or Capt. Fred up at No Bones in Wildwood.

Recognizing that the vast majority of business owners in New Jersey do not want their loyal customers charged by bureaucrats in Trenton for the right to access a public coastal resource, Cape May County legislators Sen. Jeff Van Drew, Assemblyman Nelson Albano and Assemblyman Matt Milam have spent the past two years spearheading legislation in New Jersey to both satisfy the registry requirements mandated by the federal fisheries service, along with the needs and interests of their local constituents. Assembly Bill #823 requiring the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) passed unanimously out of Committee and was approved overwhelming (54-16) on the floor of the Assembly last month.

The fishing & boating community in New Jersey offers sincere thanks to Assemblyman Albano and Assemblyman Milam (in addition fellow Primary Assembly Sponsors John Amodeo, Celeste Riley and Paul Moriarty).

The RFA would also like to thank Sen. Van Drew for working hard to pass his Senate version of the free registry legislation (S1122) recognizing that New Jersey’s coastal fishing community needs this registry legislation passed in order to avoid the potential of paying a federal fee in 2011.

The fishing, boating and conservation community also wishes to thank Sen. Van Drew and Assemblyman Albano for proposing forward-thinking new legislation to amend the New Jersey State lottery to authorize creation of a new lottery to fund conservation programs in the state. SCR93 and ACR119 would let the New Jersey voters decide upon an amendment to the Constitution of the State of New Jersey towards dedicating funding to programs for the conservation of fish and wildlife, marine fisheries, agriculture and endangered or nongame species in the state.

There are presently a handful of individuals on a campaign to disparage the excellent work of our Cape May legislators from District 1, claiming erroneously to represent the local business concerns of Cape May County. Their tactics, which include anonymous comments in local newspapers and derogatory online message board postings, coupled with venomous email exchanges between coastal advocates and local legislators, has been disheartening to say the least.

While there are those who continue to spread false information about the registry legislation in hopes of forcing a full-blown saltwater license upon the boating and fishing public in New Jersey, it’s time for the majority to be heard – the ‘free fishing’ sign is hung along the Jersey Shore, and that is where our resident anglers and non-resident coastal visitors demand it stay!

Cape May voters spoke in November – they put the current slate of District 1 legislators in place. The team of Van Drew, Albano and Milam has proven up to their task to represent the coastal community, and on behalf of the estimated 340,000 resident saltwater anglers in New Jersey and 155,000 non-resident visiting fishermen, who together spend an estimate $643 million on saltwater tackle sales alone in the state (source - US Fish & Wildlife Service 2006 survey), I would personally like to thank you gentlemen for going to Trenton and standing up for your constituents back at home in Cape May County!

Jim Hutchinson, Jr.
Managing Director, Recreational Fishing Alliance
New Gretna, NJ

(Our thanks to those business owners who responded to RFA-NJ member pledge form which was first circulated at the RFA-NJ booth at the Salt Water Expo in Somerset, NJ. New Jersey area business owners who have signed the pledge so far include Bob’s Bait Board, the Gambler, the Jamaica, Bimini Bay Outfitters, New Jersey Angler Magazine, Coast Boating School, Shore Catch Charters, Reel Seat Bait & tackle, Full Ahead Sportfishing, E-Z Outrodder LLC, AquaSkinz, Coastal Fish Replicas, OB Fish Company, Avet Reels, Reel Fun Sportfishing, Industrial Welding Supply, Ole Barney Charters, Karen Ann Charters, Chum Bucket Bait & Tackle, Fish the Drop Off, Legal Limit Charters, Oceanside Bait & Tackle, Brielle Bait & Tackle, Jim’s Bait & Tackle, Chazin’ Tale Charters, Hand’s Too Bait & Tackle, Utsch’s Marina, Pier 47 Marina, and No Bones Bait & Tackle. To sign on to support the free saltwater registry legislation and to ask the Senate to support S1122, email me at jhutchinson@joinrfa.org).

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