Saltwater Registry Legislation Needs The Governor's Signature
Information from the Recreational Fishing Alliance New Jersey about the Saltwater Registry Legislation.
Saltwater Registry Legislation Needs The Governor's Signature!
The latest campaign - which seems intended purely to submarine the legislation that sits on the governor's desk - claims there are 'flaws' in the registry bill, charging that the legal wording doesn't use a "direct approach," instead following a "regulatory route" which might require a review process of up to 12 months.
Short and sweet, DEP could've implemented this angler registry at any point during the past 4 years, without forcing legislators to react. The DEP chose not to work with the fishing community, preferring instead to insist on a saltwater fishing license, something which itself would require a long, arduous process of legislative wrangling and debate. By refusing to take the direct approach, DEP sat on their laurels, waiting for legislation to require them to react, while simultaneously running an extensive publicity campaign through various club appearances to lobby for a saltwater fishing license.
By executive order by Governor Christie in 2010, any proposed or pending state rules or regulations promulgated by legislative directive require a public comment period. RFA is working to ascertain a full timeline for New Jersey's anglers to register and fish free in 2011, but one thing is very clear - the next step in moving the process forward is the legislation becoming law! It is our hope that the governor will react quickly to A823/S1122 now on his desk, and we ask that he sign the bill swiftly and help fast-track the regulatory process so that New Jersey can apply for exempted status with the federal government, and implement the saltwater angler registry before fishing seasons get into full swing along the New Jersey coast.
The sky is not falling folks, and those who would have you believe that our right to fish will be taken away unless we pay a fee are telling a sad, sordid tale.
For those looking for answers to all of the questions brought up by our opponents, let's look at the facts.
The Registry Timeline Begins - DEP Says NO!
When the federal Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson) was signed into law in 2007, the RFA made immediate overtures to the DEP to implement a saltwater registry requirement to capture the names and contact information for anglers who fish in New Jersey's coastal waters. Had New Jersey's DEP confronted the issue directly, instituting the required registry component as mandated by federal law, legislative efforts would not have been required.
With no action from the DEP to comply with the federal mandate, RFA began working with key coastal legislators to draft a legislative fix to this problem, which was introduced on October 6, 2008 as Assembly Bill A3252. Sponsored by Assembly representatives Nelson Albano, Matt Milam, Doug Fisher and Scott Rumana, A3252 was written to establish a free recreational saltwater fishing registry, and was voted out of the Assembly Environment Committee in a vote of 5-0 just one month later. A companion bill in the Senate (S2080) was also introduced at about the same time by Senate representatives Jeff Van Drew and Chris Batemen.
The reason why these senators and assemblyman introduced these bills to follow a legislative approach to implementing the rule was specifically because the DEP refused to institute the federally mandated registry themselves. The only way to get the DEP to move on this federal requirement was through a legislative effort to enact a law to do so.
At the October committee hearing, the DEP testified that they were in favor of a $10 to $15 fee for anglers to create such a registry, making the case that without a law mandating a user fee, they were unwilling to enact a saltwater angler registry. Committee members and sponsors of the legislation asked the DEP and the RFA to work on a mutually beneficial compromise, to which the RFA responded that a $2 administrative fee to implement the registry was certainly an option. The DEP turned down this request, and legislators were left with no other choice but to move forward with the legislation as it was created.
Anglers should understand that existing Fish & Game Code strictly prohibits the imposition of a saltwater recreational anglers' licenseor fee to fish in marine waters. The DEP and its Division of Fish and Wildlife could've easily implemented a no-fee saltwater angler registry on its own at any point since Magnuson was reauthorized in 2007, however, the only way to implement any type of fee whatsoever - be it one nickel, $2, $5, or even $21.50 which is what many of the registry opponents are asking for - is through the legislative process to amend existing Fish & Game Code. In other words, DEP could've begun implementing the saltwater registry at any time during the past 4 years, but they've chosen not to.
Fast-Forward to 2010 - Same Thing, Different Year!
RFA and our RFA-NJ chapter have been extremely vocal about getting this registry legislation passed. The bills introduced during the 2008-2009 legislative session were ultimately reintroduced for 2010-2011 as A823 and S1122. In March of 2010, the Assembly version was again passed out of the Assembly Environment Committee thanks to the support of Assembly representatives Albano, Milam, John Amodeo, Celeste Riley, Paul Moriarty and Gil "Whip" Wilson; with a big boost of support from Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, A823 was heard and passed from the full Assembly just days after the public hearing in the committee.
It should be noted that except for the Sierra Club, none of the other groups now waging an anti-registry campaign bothered to turn out for the public comment held at the March, 2010 Committee hearing (nor the hearing in November of 2008 for that matter!)
Following a massive, grassroots lobbying campaign by RFA-NJ members, coastal business owners, fishing clubs, and members of New Jersey's coastal chambers of commerce, S1122 finally had its day in the Senate Environment Committee where it had been stalled during the previous legislative session. Once again, the DEP was given the opportunity to testify specifically about the administration of the saltwater registry, taking pointed questions from Senate leaders on the Committee. Once again, instead of recognizing the will of the people, the DEP asked for an angler fee of $5 without being able to substantiate any of the budgetary requirements to account for such a fund. With very little hesitation, the Senate Environment Committee voted 4-0 in favor of S1122, based in part on brilliant testimony given by Sen. Van Drew.
One week later, S1122 went to the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee, providing ample opportunity for all stakeholders to discuss any of the fiscal concerns with the legislation. Again, RFA was there to testify on behalf of recreational saltwater anglers and the coastal community, as were members of the New Jersey Marine Trades Association. Other than the DEP again pushing for a $5 fee, no other testimony was provided by any other organization; noticeably absent for public comment were the very members of the anti-registry movement who are now spreading their misinformation campaign throughout the news media and fishing message boards.
Governor Reviews Legislation While Opponents Go Public!
With support from Senate sponsors Van Drew, Jennifer Beck, Sean Kean, James Beach, Fred Madden and Donald Norcross, S1122 was passed unanimously out of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, and ultimately passed in the full Senate by a unanimous vote. This final bill was what was ultimately sent to the governor's office; a technical amendment in A823 which was required to precisely match S1122 (amended in Committee to preserve established Fish & Game Code) was sent back to the Assembly for a second reading on concurrence on January 6th, which also passed by a more than two-thirds majority.
Because of pressure from one particular New Jersey conservation group, A823 lost a co-sponsor recently as Assemblyman Rumana joined the small chorus of anti-registry advocates now attempting to defeat the legislation. However, RFA is confident that the will of the coastal community will prevail, that Governor Christie will sign the legislation into law, and in turn help fast-track the review process to see to it that DEP and the Division of Fish and Wildlife promptly implement the new angler registry requirements.
Keep in mind that the "free registry bill" was not designed to provide funding for the DEP or the Division of Fish and Wildlife. RFA and the RFA-NJ have made numerous attempts to help the State come up with funding ideas and initiatives to help support marine fisheries programs. However, these funding discussions should not be confused with the need to get a registry program in place as quickly as possible. Thus far the DEP and Division of Fish and Wildlife have been unwilling to discuss any funding options other than a saltwater user fee, while the anti-registry movement has attempted to disparage all alternative funding options outside of a direct fee to fish the coastal waters.
Regrettably, the DEP and the Division of Fish and Wildlife have been unwilling to move forward with implementing the required registry program, which again has forced the Senate and Assembly to work these bills through an often complex legislative process.
Those who are unwilling or incapable of working through these legislative channels to protect the rights of saltwater anglers would be better suited to keeping focused to their day jobs in the private sector. For the RFA, these complexities of government are what keep us focused on working specifically to meet our very public mission, unchanged over the past 14 years - "to safeguard the rights of saltwater anglers, protect marine, boat and tackle industry jobs, and ensure the long-term sustainability of our Nation's saltwater fisheries."
With that in mind, and your right to fish in our heart, we will continue to work diligently to see this important legislation carried out as expeditiously as possible. It's all about a mission; and ours is dedicated specifically to recreational saltwater angling and your right to access a healthy and sustainable public resource.