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Monday, March 22, 2010: The move to make NJ a free state took a giant legislative step forward today. The following is a RFA release: NJ ASSEMBLY VOTES TO KEEP SALTWATER FISHING FREE! RFA-NJ Appl…

Monday, March 22, 2010: The move to make NJ a free state took a giant legislative step forward today. The following is a RFA release:

NJ ASSEMBLY VOTES TO KEEP SALTWATER FISHING FREE!

RFA-NJ Applauds Passage of Free Saltwater Registry Legislation

March 22, 2010 - With nine months to go before New Jersey's saltwater anglers could be forced into paying for a federal saltwater registry program, the state's full Assembly today approved a bill (A823) to create a free, state-run saltwater angler registry in New Jersey. The vote by the New Jersey Assembly (54 in favor, 16 opposed, 6 abstain) clears the way for Senate discussion regarding the companion bill (S1122), which if also passed and signed by the governor would exempt all recreational anglers who fish in New Jersey coastal waters from having to pay NOAA to store their name and contact information on file.

Primary sponsors of A823 include Assemblymen Nelson Albano and Matt Milam, (D-District 1), along with representatives John Amodeo (R-District 2) and Celeste Riley (D-District 3), while co-sponsors include Assemblyman Scott T. Rumana (R-District 40) and Assemblyman Gilbert "Whip" Wilson (D-District 5). The Assembly bill which passed today matches an identical Senate bill (S 1122) which was reintroduced last month by Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-1) and would require the Department of Environmental Protection to establish a free recreational saltwater registry in New Jersey. The legislation would meet new federal requirements mandating that the contact information of individuals who engage in recreational fishing within state coastal waters be collected in a state registry database.

As mandated by the Magnuson Stevens Act, federal surveyors who keep track of recreational fish harvest will be required to use the new saltwater angler registry to contact fishermen about their fishing habits. As of 2010, most anglers fishing in New Jersey coastal waters are required to register with the federal government in an effort to improve data collection (visit www.countmyfish.noaa.gov for details). As of 2011, NOAA has said they may begin charging anglers up to $25 apiece to register online with the federal system, unless states come up with their own system of gathering angler information. Both A823 and S1122 have been written specifically to allow New Jersey to apply for "exempted state designation from the federal registration requirements," while also stating that the DEP shall not charge a fee for the required registration program.

"This is the right thing to for the coastal anglers who fish in New Jersey, both state residents and for those out-of-state fishermen who visit the Jersey Shore every year," said Capt. Adam Nowalsky, Chairman of the Recreational Fishing Alliance's New Jersey chapter (RFA-NJ). Earlier this month, Nowalsky and other RFA representatives testified before the New Jersey Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee in favor of A823, where the bill passed unanimously out of committee. RFA argued that the need for a federally mandated saltwater registry in the state was essentially co-opted by advocates of a saltwater license, which is purely a funding debate. "What has happened is people have seen the issue with regard to funding here in the state of New Jersey specifically with fisheries and the two issues are being mixed together," Nowalsky told the committee back on March 9.

"Sen. Van Drew said it best when testifying for this bill in committee, that fathers and sons, brothers and sisters, friends and family should all be able to wet a line without worrying about lining someone's pockets," Nowalsky added. "We look forward to continuing to work on this, getting additional sponsors for S1122, and getting the Senate companion bill before Committee and up for a vote."

The last time the Senate version of the free saltwater registry was due to be heard in the Senate Environment Committee was back on December 3, 2009. According to the RFA, the bill had the votes needed to pass along to the Senate for full vote, however, Committee Chairman Bob Smith (D-Piscataway) refused to allow the bill to be heard, to the exclusion of the recreational fishing community in New Jersey. "We're not pleased with the way Chairman Smith handled this back in December," said Jim Donofrio, the RFA's Executive Director. "All his committee members expressed a positive view of the bill, but the Chairman felt it was better to help his friends at the DEP instead of listening to the will of the people through their committee members."

As reported in the Atlantic City Press, Smith refused to allow public comment on the free registry legislation and instead yielded the floor and his support to the DEP position in favor of a $15 to $30 fee that saltwater anglers would have to pay before being allowed to fish. Donofrio said it's regrettable that the need for a simple phonebook of saltwater anglers has been intentionally manipulated by advocates for a saltwater usage fee. "In a down economy where state bureaucracies have been caught misappropriating millions of dollars away from so-called dedicated accounts, it's hard to believe that there are some in our own recreational community who would attempt to intentionally mislead our state legislators about the registry requirements."

Donofrio said today's Assembly vote is a strong indication that legislators in New Jersey have been able to see through the rhetoric. "The RFA is thankful for the efforts of those Assembly and Senate sponsors for keeping the discussions focused on the rights of our fishing community, and we'd especially like to thank the Assembly Speaker Ms. Sheila Oliver for recognizing the importance of this legislation and for putting the free registry bill up for a full Assembly vote as quickly as she did," Donofrio said.

To learn more about the RFA-NJ chapter and to get involved in NJ saltwater fishing issues, visit www.rfanj.org.

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