Anglers will not have to pay to fish in 2011, but they will have to register with the state.
A week before New Jersey's striped bass season begins March 1, Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bill designed to create a free registry of the state's recreational anglers. The bill provides for the state to create a registry system to account for recreational anglers, which brings New Jersey into compliance with federal law.
Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which regulates fisheries management policies on the federal level, all recreational anglers must be registered with either the federal government or a state agency in order for scientists to keep better records of catch data. States with fishing licenses use their licensing regimes as their registries.
The creation of a free, state registry will allow New Jersey anglers to avoid a $15 saltwater registration fee imposed by the federal government as of Jan. 1.
"Fishing from our shores has been and should remain free to our residents," said Christie, in a statement. "Some simple pleasures in life should be not be subject to a new unfunded federal mandate."
Rumors began flying as to whether or not Christie would sign the bill after it was reconciled between the state Senate and Assembly in January and sent to the governor's desk. The strongest pro-fishing group in the state, the New Gretna-based Recreational Fishing Alliance, pushed hard for the bill to be passed and signed into law. A smaller group, the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, expressed some reservations, questioning whether the cost of the free registry would eat into the budget of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Eventually, however, the outdoor alliance supported Christie's signing of the measure.
"We realize the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) has profound responsibilities to protect public health, safety and the environment, all with increasingly limited room for budgetary maneuvers,'' said Anthony Mauro, the alliance's founder. "So we applaud DEP Commissioner Bob Martin for working to implement this bill in the most efficient means possible within his agency's current budget.''
The requirement for anglers to register before wetting a line has been in effect since Jan. 1, 2010, but last year the federal government provided its own free registration system. It did not impose fees until Jan. 1, 2011.
There was no word on the details of the state's implementation of the registry system Tuesday. Under the federal system, anglers can apply for registration cards online or call a toll-free phone number to register.