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Jersey Anglers Can Still Have a Free Lunch if They Catch it Themselves

Bill to create free registry of state's anglers passes through a Senate committee

"There's no free lunch," quipped state Sen. Bob Smith about a year ago.

Last December, Smith and I chatted one afternoon about the prospect of New Jersey creating a free registry of the state's anglers. Back then, the state was broke. It still is, but the blunt Senator from Middlesex County has changed his tune just a bit.

Last year at this time, the state's anglers were in a tizzy over Smith's blocking a bill sponsored by Sen. Jeff Van Drew - a fellow Democrat from Cape May County - that would have created a free registry of New Jersey's recreational anglers. Under the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, a federal law which regulates fisheries, all recreational saltwater anglers in America must register so federal surveyors can have the opportunity to collect data on how many fish (and what species) they catch. Since many states require anglers to purchase licenses to fish, those states were exempt since they already had a system of registering their fishing public. In New Jersey, saltwater anglers have not had to pay to fish.

This year was the first year the registration program was required. Since New Jersey has no registration system, anglers in the Garden State had to register at a federal Web site. It was simple: a few clicks, and Uncle Sam would deliver a registration card right to your door. But that was last year. The federal government, apparently, is particularly broke heading into 2011. Federal registration will cost $15 per person next year. With that announcement, the ball landed right smack in the middle of Sen. Smith's court. This time around, a fishing freebie didn't sound any more attractive, but Smith gave the OK for the Senate Environment Committee to vote on the measure. It passed yesterday, Dec. 9.

The bill will now head to the full Senate for a vote. It already passed muster with the state Assembly. Sponsored by Van Drew for the second year in a row, the bill will create a free registry system to allow anglers to sign up and be counted. That way, New Jersey anglers become exempt from the federal system (and its $15 fee) and New Jersey politicians won't have to deal with a license and all that comes with it - backlash from voters, enforcement issues and noncompliance. The fishing community was abuzz with excitement Thursday.

"New Jersey's fishing community made their voices heard, and we want to thank all those Senators who helped get this bill to the committee for discussion today," said Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, a national group which lobbies for anglers' rights. The RFA is based in New Gretna. "Our praise, of course, to committee chair Smith for putting the bill up for a vote today, I know he's had concerns with the legislation and was waiting for input from the DEP, and that's why it was so good to have an opportunity to see discussion of the bill in the Committee."

On the local front, well, it's cold. Even the die-hards are staying warm - most of them, at least. On an impromptu late-night trip to Manasquan Inlet last night, at least two anglers were out. One can only assume they were on the hunt for blackfish since they weren't casting out, instead dropping their lines down into the jetty rocks. For what it's worth, I didn't see them nab any fish. Things have been a bit better on the ocean, with the party boats all reporting a general slow pick of blackfish, ling and sea bass.

It's still prime-time for striped bass fishing, considering the ocean temperature is still hovering around 50-degrees. If you're lucky enough to still have your boat in the water, head out this weekend! It's looking decent and there is still plenty of bait off Ocean County. Troll off Seaside and see what bites (there's a Snooki joke in there somewhere, I can feel it).

That'll about wrap it up for this time. Lunch is on me - as long as I catch something!

About this column:

An update on local fishing, reeled in every Friday on Patch!

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