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Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Nice, But Don’t Admit It;

Pass the Possum Pillow

Now, this is more like it. Sunny and mild. Finally, I don’t have to worry about walking outside in my dress clothes and having my shoe bust through half-frozen slush and into ice-cold water below. Dare I say it? It just might be the fat snowlady has sung.

The best way to keep the niceness afoot is to pretend it’s not there. As soon as you go blabbin’ about how nice it is -- you know what happens. And lest we forget, March has historically been among the cruelest months, most memorably March of 1962. Here’s hoping winter has already blown its cruelty wad.

Sidebar: Many folks don’t realize that the Great March Storm of 1962 was a snowstorm. Although the moisture had gone to rain along the immediate shoreline, the mainland had about 8 inches of snow. Hereabouts, the waves and tidal damage was so historically extreme that the frigidity angle has been all but forgotten.

I took to our melt-out like a fish to water. I got in major chunks of outback time, sticking close to home in wooded areas of Ocean County.

As noted last column, our mammalian wildlife has ditched wintering holes and crevices. I came across some muddy patches had tracks from muskrats, raccoons, opossums and even some smaller rodents. I swear it looks like they were all exchanging thoughts on how their winter sleeps went.

“Hey, Musker, you sleep good.”

“Nah, I made a lot of mistakes.”

OPOSSUM PILLOW: I heard a wildish opossum tale from right here on LBI.

Jim D., a fellow SandPaper-ite, and his wife Ellie are cat aficionados times three. Their Ship Bottom home has one of those convenient cat doors.

You can see where this is goin’, right?

It’s kinda odd the way we credit our family pets with some sort of superior smarts to equal-brained – and oft sewer-wise -- wildlife. Take that cat-door, for instance. It takes an opossum exactly a glancing glance to realize what the contraption is. It then takes a mere nose-through and a beady-eyed look around to rapidly register the warm, delicious-smelling dwelling awaiting inside. Such was the scenario that led to not just a mama opossum but also her brood of joeys (proper name for marsupial kids) making themselves comfortable within. Just like that, the entire family of punk-haired mammals assumed their secretive place amid the human family – cats and all.

One can only guess what the cats thought about the instant interlopers.

Cat 1: “Oh, those have to be the ugliest things I’ve ever seen. What was Jim thinkin’ when he got those?”

Cat 2: Man, that big one is hideous. Who does her hair, Stevie Wonder?

Cat 1: I’m thinkin’ it’s gonna take more than some sample bottles of Critique to fix what’s ailin’ that face.

Cat 2: I’ll tell you one thing. I’m not sharin’ my litter box with them.

Cat 3: I think the little ones are kinda cute.

Cat 1: Just what I’d expect comin’ from you. Like the time you brought home that live star-nosed shrew for Ellie to see. Came that close to getting’ us kicked outta here.

In case you’re pondering why those cats didn’t go carnivore on the opossum, it only takes a quick gander at a hissing possum to see it’s not lacking in dental details. They have fiercely sharp teeth, dazzling-white to boot – right up there with Regis Philbin. And opossum are not slow to display that dental cutlery. For a feral cat, grabbing a joey might be worth a go but going nose-to-nose with a full-grown ma or pa possum – hell, someone could lose an eye. Interestingly, Jim had previously spotted the momma possum out in the garden, cat territory.

But back to that itinerate opossum family that had waddled their way into the home of Jim, Ellie and their pride. Foregoing an instant vanquishing of the critters, Jim gave them some time to get their fill of humanity and hopefully exit on their own, via the two-way cat-door. And it seemed such was the case, until late one night when Jim awoke to the feel of what he took to be one of the family feline snuggling up near his pillow. “It brushed past my arm so I ran my hand down it and thought, ‘This is the wiriest-haired cat that I’ve ever felt,’” said Jim. Yep, it was a pillow opossum. Talk about wildlife making itself at home.

“Hey, come on folks, don’t Bogart the covers. I have no hair on my tail. It gets chilly.”

That close encounter of the wildlife kind was enough to call animal control into the picture. It wasn’t hard for the experts to humanely nab the domestication-seeking home invaders – to be whisked off for release into the wilds, far away. I can just picture those opossum out there fondly remembering their vacation on LBI.

“Oh, and those pillows were to die for.”

In researching other tales of opossum posing as family members, I was surprised to see how often these quiet night-cruisers make themselves right at home amid humanity, mainly in rafters and crawlspaces.

Further investigation showed that there is something of a kinship between opossum and non-feral cats. One of the wilder opossum tales I came across was an account of a family mama cat coming home one day with an entire litter of young opossum clinging to her back. It sure seems the compassionate cat had painstakingly rescued the doomed brood from a road-killed mama possum. All the joeys survived.

There is also something of a kinship between humans and baby opossums. There are literally dozens of websites dedicated to hand-raising orphaned joeys until they can be released into the wilds. Unfortunately, you can’t rescue just a single joey or it adopts the rescuers as “family.” Hey, even I’d stop in my boots if I went into a house and a possum, wagging that pink hairless tail, came running up to greet me. “Joey, down! Down! Don’t jump up on the nice man!”

Important: Before you take to personally rescuing any form of wildlife, check state and locals ordinances. Truth be told, it’s always best to leave rescuing wounded or orphaned wildlife it to the professionals. Locally, places like the Stafford Veterinary Clinic and Popcorn Park Zoo are best suited for those initial salvation efforts.

FLUKE REGS AREN’T US: Once again, the chosen fluke season will cater fully to summer-ites, headboats and charterists. It will run from May 29 through September 6, roughly Memorial Day to Labor Day.

There was a time I’d rage against the machine and verbally pummel such seemingly unfair managerial decisions and their obvious exclusion of coastal locals. Face it, most of us hereabouts work like fiends all summer, following the Shore tradition of making salt hay when the SPF80 sun shines -- and the back flies frolic. For too many years now, the fluking calendar has ended right as we locales finally get a break.

But, as age chews away at the tips of my teeth, I’ve come to realize that those tons of tourist anglers, swarming in here for the high-sun days, are the reason we have tackle shops and charter boats here in the off-season. The sun worshippers support us in many ways. Without that crush of cash from vacationing June-through-August anglers, there isn’t a tackle shop or for-hire boat that could stay afloat through those true-fishing times that we desperately need them: preseason and throughout fall.

If it weren’t for summer fishing (and crabbing) madness, we’d likely all be jamming the uncreative, predictably stocked tackle counters at this mart and that one. What a loss of servicing. Just try walking a huge striper through Everybody’s-Mart to have it officially weighed in.

“Sir, that’s dripping on the floor. I’m going to have to call security,” -- who arrives, shrieks in abject horror and runs out the side door, setting off alarms all over the place.

“What’s his problem?”

“Fishaphobia. It’s our store’s new policy to hire people with odd phobias.”

Now, wear your waders into that other department store to grab a couple dozen fresh mullet – first having to press a button that announces throughout the mart, “Assistance is needed in fishing,” until some gum-popping teen girl walks over, makes a face, and asks who smells like fish. Imagine walking into somewhere like Fisherman’s Headquarters and getting accused of smelling like bait. Hell, that shop could be packed to the gills with anglers on a Saturday and if someone asks out loud, “Who smells like fish?” every hand in the shop will nonchalantly go up, led by the employees. You can thank summer anglers for keeping such personalized shops up and running.

EFFORT TO BE FREE (Important stuff): Here are some snippets from a March 9 Recreational Fishing Alliance newsletter. The entire write-up can be found on the RFA website.

“The New Jersey Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved Assembly Bill 823 on Monday to create a free saltwater registry in New Jersey. If passed by the full Assembly, the law would mean that coastal anglers in New Jersey would not have to file with a federal registry next year and would also be exempt from having to pay a federal fee starting in 2011.

“The bill matches identical Senate bill (S1122) introduced last month by Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-1) and would allow the state to set up its own database of saltwater anglers without charging fishermen any license fee.

“Sen. Van Drew noted that by incorporating a free registry program to help keep the contact information of saltwater anglers, he expected New Jersey to maintain a tourism advantage, allowing people to fish off New Jersey for free while other nearby coastal states move to a fee-based license program. "Our tourism budget has been cut," said Van Drew, adding "The reality is every state around us advertises more for tourism."

“The statewide bill's primary opposition in committee came from Tom McCloy, administrator for the state's Bureau of Marine Fisheries, who said that if the state sets up its own registry without charging at least a nominal fee to fund its operation, the cost would ultimately come from the Department of Environmental Protection's budget. McCloy estimated that cost at as much as $2 million annually. McCloy said his estimates were based on an existing contract between the bureau and a third-party vendor that processes hunting and fishing licenses in the state and charges $1.01 per application. That point prompted committee Vice Chair Celeste Riley to ask whether the bureau could design their own simple website to allow fishermen sign-up online.”

COSTLY FREENESS: The above is a way-worthy effort but it won’t take Trenton long to begin fretting over potential long-term maintenance costs – should the suggested in-house fees falter. Also, the always money-sniffing politicos will openly bemoan the monies the state might miss by not going the licensing route taken by virtually all other coastal states. I should also mention that there were hopes that registry money at the state level could help bolster the financially teetering Division of Fish and Wildlife.

I’m behind the free-ride concept but have to wortily worry over what its impact might be on our yearly allotments (poundage) of fluke, weakfish, tog, seabass, slot stripers (someday soon?), et al. Folks from nearby licensed states (Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, North Carolina) will throng to Jersey, “The Fish for Free State.” That’s sure an odd invite in this day and age. We will definitely have overages out the kazoo. We’ll become Jersey “The Fish-free State.”

Sure, the initial dam burst of anglers will be a boom to tourism but the long-term effects will be horrific, as a vast array of anglers ravage our fisheries. Just ask the state of Florida, which found out, near-catastrophically, the woes of come one-come all the hard way,. New Jersey is already over the top when it comes to fishing pressure.

What’s more, the feds will soon be getting exacting data on just how quickly anglers are eating up their recreational allotments. Science and statistics will be on their side, as the registry spews forth real-time information. I clearly see the day when fisheries will be monitored so closely we can literally watch a species’ allotment run out like sand from one of those sand-flow things. NOAA weather radio will announce, “The National Marine Fisheries Service has declared the recreational fishing allotment for fluke reached. All fluke fishing activities must stop at midnight tonight…” And that could be July 8th.

Despite all that fretting, I’m listening to freedom ring.

TALK TO DOI: Want to voice your thoughts regarding the Department of the Interior?

You have until March 19, 2010 to go to http://openinterior.ideascale.com and add an appropriate letter/blog to a concept being described as, “Give us your ideas on how we can create our Open Government Plan.”

Per that webpage: “This plan will help Interior: Improve the availability and quality of information; Work better with others inside & outside the government; Be more efficient & innovative Learn More...”

To get an idea of what’s already been posted, just scroll down the homepage and check out the writings from various folks, ranging from employees/scientists with the DOI to journalists looking for better communications to riders of the purple sage (there are a load of letters regarding wild horses and burros).

I can’t see why a write-up on the lonely demise of the Holgate Wilderness Area (due to erosion) wouldn’t be an acceptable piece of input.

Despite what it might sometimes seem, I’m a huge backer of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge overall. The prime and often-pristine real estate that it has saved from development or environmental abuse by inappropriate usages is exceptional. Its education and volunteer programs are also excellent.

The simmering conflicts over usages of Holgate are actually bizarre, complex and irreconcilable, however, they are quite distant from most other aspects of the Forsythe Refuge. The problem is there is no exact fit for the Holgate issues within the framework of DOI mandates -- without some questionable stretching of Wildness Act policies.

As for the south end soon being essentially cut off from the rest of the Island, that’s also bizarre, almost unique. Where else in the nation is a portion of a refuge essentially migration away on its own?

There are, of course, social issues within this seemingly all-natural move. Allowing public lands to erode away would seem to be inconsistent with the good neighbor policy hyped by the refuge when it procures land and becomes, for lack of a better word, a taxpayer.

It has to realized that the land in Holgate is partly owned by the state of New Jersey and is managed by Long Beach Township. It is public domain below mean high tide line. There are NJ statutes that prohibit landowner actions – or, in this case, inactions – that could negatively impact adjacent areas and endanger the health and welfare of the community. When the ongoing erosion leads to a breakthrough at Holgate, not only will a new inlet likely form but also there is every indication that it would progress northwards, toward heavily inhabited areas.

There is also the unslight matter of the public being deprived of over two miles of undeveloped oceanfront for hiking, fishing and bird watching. The negative impact on tourism would be extreme.

Again, this Holgate paradox could be worth a last-minute write-in to DOI – as long it’s not a carpet criticism of the Forsythe Wildlife Refuge system.

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