Van Drew Calls For Moratorium On Assessment Of Excessive Fishing Penalties

Calls $3,000 Fine For Failure To Register With State Fishing Database Absurd

TRENTON – Senator Jeff Van Drew today called on Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin to halt plans to charge residents an initial civil penalty of up to $3,000 for failing to register with the new free state fishing registry implemented under legislation he sponsored.

In a letter sent to the commissioner today, Senator Van Drew said the purpose of the free registry created under his bill was to prevent residents from having to pay a $15 fee to register with a federal program.

“The very purpose of creating the free registry was to cut people a break,” wrote Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May/Cumberland/Atlantic). “And since it is a new system, it is expected that residents who fish infrequently and individuals traveling from out of state may not be aware of the new requirement to register. A $300 fine for an initial offense of noncompliance is extreme, and the potential maximum fine of $3,000 is just absurd.”

The Senator said he intends to introduce legislation immediately to scale back the penalties for noncompliance, imposing a warning for a first offense and a $20 fine for each subsequent offense. He requested the DEP impose a moratorium on fine assessments until the Legislation is signed.

Van Drew sponsored the registry bill (S-1122) in response to a federal mandate requiring all saltwater recreational anglers to register with a National Saltwater Angler Registry Program. The purpose of the new registry was to create a national database to identify saltwater anglers that could be surveyed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for research purposes. Congress authorized the NOAA to begin charging recreational anglers a fee – subsequently set at $15 – to cover administration costs, but gave states the option of preventing the fee assessment by creating their own registry. The legislation was signed in February. The free registry went online this week.

The letter sent today to Commissioner Martin is below:

May 6, 2011

Bob Martin

Commissioner

Department of Environmental Protection

State of New Jersey

Trenton, NJ 08625

Dear Commissioner Martin,

On April 26, you signed an administrative order establishing the New Jersey Saltwater Recreational Registry Program, a free registry for saltwater anglers required under legislation I sponsored. As you know, the intent of my legislation was to prevent anglers from having to pay a $15 federal fee for recreational saltwater fishing, which would have been assessed in New Jersey had we not established our own free state registry.

My position was that assessing any fee would be burdensome to the average resident, who is already struggling to pay a mortgage, property taxes, tolls and ever-increasing gas prices. Further, it would send the wrong message to tourists who have chosen to spend their hard-earned money at our shops, hotels and restaurants to ask that they pay another $15 for the ability to fish. Therefore, I am grateful the Governor signed my legislation and that you worked expeditiously to fulfill its requirements.

I am extremely concerned, however, about the penalties associated with this program. As structured by your department, individuals who fail to register, or who have complied with the registration requirement but are caught fishing without the registration document in their possession, would be assessed a fine of between $300 and $3,000 for a first offense and $500 to $5,000 for subsequent offenses. These fines are extraordinarily excessive, and as the statute reads, I believe were incorrectly applied to the new registry law. Further, as commissioner, you have the authority to establish penalties for specific violations as low as $30 for a first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses. Quite frankly, I find it puzzling that the department would seek to impose such severe penalties for failure to register information with a state database that is ultimately to be used for research surveys.

The very purpose of creating the free registry was to cut people a break. And since it is a new system, it is expected that residents who fish infrequently and individuals traveling from out of state may not be aware of the new requirement to register. A $300 fine for an initial offense of noncompliance is extreme, and the potential maximum fine of $3,000 is just absurd. Imagine how a tourist will react after getting slapped with a $3,000 fishing fine while vacationing at our shore. How about a resident who has worked hard to save for a weekend trip to the beach? And what about those who are impoverished and fish to survive? How will a $300 fine affect them?

I plan to introduce legislation to scale back the penalties for non-compliance, imposing a warning for a first offense and a $20 fine for each subsequent offense. My intention is to introduce it on May 12, the next time the Senate is in session, and to work to fast-track it through the Legislature. Until the bill is signed, I respectfully request that you impose a moratorium on fine assessments under this program. Commissioner, your work, along with that of the Governor, has made an enormous difference in the culture of government in our state – a difference for the better – please don’t let this issue cloud that in any way. Thank you in advance for your cooperation in this important matter.

Sincerely,

Jeff Van Drew

Senator, 1st District