Handling Public Access Issues

by George Browne, Chairman Public Access
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association May 2021 Newsletter)

If you fish long enough, you will eventually run into a situation where you are told that you cannot fish at a particular location, a badge is required, or the area is only accessible to residents. While that may be true in some instances, New Jersey has a well-established public trust doctrine. This public trust doctrine includes the following three basic types of access:

It is the duty of the State of New Jersey to protect this access. For more information on public access in New Jersey, the Department of Environmental Protection has a public access handbook that is available online at this link. This handbook is a good place to learn what the public’s rights are for access to tidal waterways and shores in New Jersey.

What should you do if you are denied access to a fishing location? Let’s start with the basics. Are you a member of a club that belongs to JCAA?

Jersey Coast Anglers Association (JCAA) is an association made up of member clubs. Typically, JCAA gets involved when a member club brings an issue to JCAA. The member club is responsible for dealing with the issue and JCAA provides expertise and guidance to help with the problem. The JCAA board and committee members are all volunteers. While the board members and committee chairs have years of knowledge and expertise in dealing with these issues, their availability is limited. That is why the local clubs must be involved in the issue.

Whether you belong to a fishing club or not, local issues are best solved locally. Member clubs are best equipped to enlist local contacts, local anglers, and local businesses to work on these issues. That saves a lot of time and footwork for everyone.

We hear a lot of the same issues from town to town: littering, public urination, noise, public drinking and more. There are solutions to these problems without shutting off access.

First, having people who live or work in town (especially bait and tackle shops) reach out to the elected officials to discuss the issue may solve the problem. That is always where you want to start. Call or email the business administrator or mayor to ask about the issue. You can copy JCAA on emails by using the email address publicacces@jcaa.org. You can also follow up with us about what you heard back. What happens in one town can influence what happens in another town.

Second, if the problem is littering, ask the town three questions:

  1. Are there trash cans on site?
  2. Does the town empty the trash cans on a regular basis?
  3. Are more trash cans needed in the area?

Anglers are not the only people generating trash. Others use the area including swimmers, surfers, walkers, people eating by the water, dog walkers and more. They all produce trash. So, improving trash collection can solve that problem.

Third, if public urination is one of the complaints from residents, are there public restrooms in the area? Other beach users need restrooms too, including small children. Permits for beach replenishment or other State issued permits may require bathrooms and parking.

Fourth, the town already has ordinances for littering, public drinking, public urination and defecation, noise, and most of the other problems the residents are complaining about. What is the town doing to enforce the existing ordinances? Go after the troublemakers causing the problem instead of those of us who are simply trying to fish and maybe put food on the table. Ask for the records of how many calls for service did the police get for the area? Ask how many summonses did the police write? A lot of time the numbers do not match the claims by residents and, if there is an issue, comparing the number of summonses to the number of calls can show lack of enforcement. Or, that here really isn’t the problem residents claim there are.

Fifth, when an area is closed to fishing, it has an impact locally. If you are a local, you need to make sure that the elected officials know they are shutting you out. If you belong to a local fishing club, make sure the politicians know about your club (and what you do for the community). Numbers matter and not all of us are from out of town. There are also local businesses that are affected by prohibiting fishing. Not just the local bait and tackle store. Hotels, house rentals, restaurants, bars and more benefit from anglers visiting the area both in-season and off-season. Ban fishing access and that revenue goes away.

Sixth, if all else fails, be prepared to file a complaint with NJDEP. You can call 1-877-WARNDEP (1-877-927-6337). Make sure you get a case number for follow-up on your complaint. You can email the case number to JCAA at publicaccess@jcaa.org. That brings the complaint to our attention and, if needed, we can enlist other beach user groups to help.

We have a right to access tidal waters. Only by making sure that right is safeguarded can we protect our access to use the beaches and tidal waters.

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