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Van Drew/Beach Bill To Reduce Fishing Registry Penalties Sent To Governor

Reduces Maximum Penalty For Failure To Register With State Fishing Database From $5,000 to $50 For Recreational Anglers

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Jeff Van Drew and Jim Beach to drastically reduce penalties associated with the new state fishing registry received final approval yesterday in the Assembly, and was sent to the desk of Governor Chris Christie.

“The purpose of creating the state registry was to prevent individuals from having to pay a $15 federal fee to fish. Imposing an initial fine of up to $3,000 for failing to register with this free database is completely unacceptable,” said Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May/Cumberland/Atlantic). “This bill scales back the penalties for noncompliance significantly so that anglers are not forced to fork over hundreds, or possibly thousands, of dollars simply because they were unaware of the new program. The goal now is to ensure that people are familiar with the requirement to register, which we are addressing by placing program information in bait and tackle shops across the state.”

The state implemented the free state registry for recreational saltwater anglers in May. 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 fine of $25 for the first offense and $50 for any subsequent offense. The owner or operator of a state-licensed or federally permitted for-hire vessel who failed to comply would be subject to a fine of $100 for a first offense and $200 for any subsequent offense. Non-residents who are registered under another state’s registry program would be exempt from New Jersey’s registration requirement, provided that the other state provides reciprocal exemption from its own registration requirements for people registered under New Jersey’s program.

Finally, the bill would 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. There’s no question that compliance with the program is important, but the fines implemented by the state are overly harsh,” said Senator Beach (D-Camden). “Informing anglers of this new requirement is the most effective way to ensure participation, so launching a public awareness campaign makes sense. And imposing a more reasonable fine for noncompliance will serve as a reminder for those who have not yet done so to take the time to go online and register.”

The free state fishing registry was created in response to a federal mandate requiring all saltwater recreational anglers to register with a National Saltwater Angler Registry Program. The purpose of the federal 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, sponsored by Senator Van Drew, was signed in February. The DEPs fee structure was announced when the program went online in early May.

The bill cleared the Senate by a vote of 39-0 in June. The Assembly approved the bill Thursday by a vote of 68-0-1.

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