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Van Drew/Beach Bill To Reduce Fishing Registry Penalties Advances

Reduces Maximum Penalty For Failure To Register With State Fishing Database From $5,000 to a Warning During First Year of Program, Makes Maximum Fine $20 In Future Years

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Jeff Van Drew and Jim Beach to drastically reduce penalties associated with the new free state fishing registry – implemented as a way to collect information from recreational saltwater anglers for research purposes – was recently approved by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.

“The whole purpose of creating the state registry was to cut people a break, and prevent them from having to pay a $15 federal fee for fishing. Imposing an initial fine of up to $3,000 for failing to register with this free database is unacceptable,” said Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May/Cumberland/Atlantic). “Clearly, since this is a new program some residents who fish infrequently and individuals traveling from out of state are not going to be aware of the new requirement to register. It just makes sense to give them a warning. I am quite sure that once they know about the program, the possibility of getting a $20 fine for failing to comply in future years will be reason enough for them to log onto the state web site and sign up.”

The state implemented the free registry for recreational saltwater anglers in May, required under legislation sponsored by Senator Van Drew. The intent of the registry 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 the state not established its own free registry. As structured by the Department of Environmental Protection, individuals who fail to register, or who comply with the registration requirement but are caught fishing without the registration document in their possession, will be assessed a fine of between $300 and $3,000 for a first offense and $500 to $5,000 for subsequent offenses.

The Senators’ bill (S-2880) would scale back the penalties for noncompliance, imposing a warning for a first year the program is in place and either a warning or a $20 fine for noncompliance in subsequent years, to be assessed at the discretion of the DEP. In the event the new fee structure is not acceptable to the federal government, the bill requires the DEP to impose the minimum fines necessary to comply with requirements for state exemption from the federal program.

The bill would also require the DEP to launch a public awareness campaign to inform residents and tourists of the registry program. Program materials would be developed and distributed by the state’s conservation officers to recreational anglers, and to the state’s bait and tackle shops for display inside the stores and for distribution to consumers. Information would also be posted on the DEP website.

“The registry is used to collect information from anglers so that research can be conducted on how best to sustain our fisheries, and preserve the rich tradition of recreational saltwater fishing that so many New Jerseyans enjoy,” said Senator Beach (D-Camden). “There’s no question that compliance with the program is important, but it by no means should be used as a revenue raiser. I am confident the risk of a $20 fine for noncompliance in the future will serve as a reminder for residents to take the time to register, so that the NOAA can collect the data necessary for its research.”

Van Drew sponsored the registry bill 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 to create a free registry was signed in February. The DEPs fee structure was announced when the program went online in early May. At Thursday’s committee hearing, a DEP official said the department recognized the fines were unreasonable and is planning to hold stakeholder meetings to discuss a more appropriate penalty structure for the program. Van Drew said the move is encouraging.

“I am pleased the DEP has recognized the fines in place for the program are excessive, and is also planning to meet with stakeholders as I did to discuss this issue,” said Senator Van Drew. “Certainly, the fact that the administration and the Legislature are both working to reduce the penalties associated with this program is good news for residents and tourists alike. The ultimate goal here is not to be punitive, but to create a workable program that will facilitate research and contribute to the preservation of recreational fishing off our shores.”

The bill cleared the Senate Environment and Energy Committee by a vote of 4-0 last Thursday. It next heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration.

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