Local community officials, pressured by the federal government to restrict off-season vehicle access to the beach due to the suspected presence of a small weed species, have delayed an ordinance containing the restrictions suggested this week after dozens of recreational anglers came to a city council meeting to talk about the issue.
Although not all of the fishermen are from Brick Township, where the controversy most recently emerged, those who attended a township council meeting there represented several local advocacy groups, including the New Jersey Beach Buggy Association and several fishing clubs. Those who spoke said that while restricting vehicle access to sand for periods of time may not seem unreasonable at first glance, the federal government’s request is part of an anti-access scheme that regulators of Washington have been pushing for years. Additionally, restricting vehicle access also means restricting access for the elderly and disabled, including the many disabled veterans groups that sponsor year-round surf fishing expeditions.
Under the order presented at the beginning of July, which was to be officially passed this week, beach buggy access was reportedly restricted at the request of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior. Brick’s ordinance has historically allowed beach buggies from Oct. 1 to April 30 each year, but the revision would end the season on March 15. In practice, this could give the federal government significant leeway to effectively block off beach access areas.
Brick – unfortunately, according to the members of the group – is among the first cities targeted by the access restrictions.
“It’s going up and down the coast to other towns,” said Jim Hutchinson, a township resident and longtime fishing advocate who is also editor of The Fisherman magazine. “It’s not just the Department of the Interior, but Congress is currently looking to turn Hudson Canyon into a petting zoo. I understand Governor Murphy wants to see regulations expanded to eliminate beach buggies .
Hutchinson, who is also a former director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, a national political organization that seeks to enforce fishing rights, warned of a slippery slope.
“Governor. Murphy hasn’t been a friend of the recreational fishing community,” Hutchinson said, clearly. “Does he see this as a way to get us off the beach for 45 days? If he gets 45 days out of Brick Township, will he think he can get 60 days out of Island Beach State Park?
He urged the council to table the issue until after the next congressional election, especially as the Brick district moves from third, now represented by U.S. Representative Andy Kim, to fourth, now represented by U.S. Representative Chris. Smith. A congressional majority reshuffle could also open new opportunities to oppose access restrictions, he predicted.
“Let’s wait until after the congressional elections and go back to the Department of the Interior,” Hutchinson said. “We’re not riding the dunes anyway – where’s a blade of grass going to appear on the exit or exit to the beach?”
The gathered crowd cheered after Hutchinson finished speaking.
Mayor John Ducey declared his support for beach access and fishing rights, reiterating that the restrictions have never been on the township’s radar, let alone something that would have been proposed by ordinance, except the fact that they were requested by the federal government. He also said Brick has never had any issues with vehicle access to the beach during the off-season. His concern, however, is that the federal government could threaten funding for beach replenishment if the township doesn’t comply, which could either force The Brick to miss out on a planned 2023 replenishment project or be stuck with a bill if one federal agency convinces another not. to fund the community.
“That’s what they hung over our heads,” the mayor said.
The proposed changes to the ordinance came about after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asked the township to change the policy under a beach restoration agreement, spurred by a coastwide effort by the government. federal government to restrict access to parts of the shoreline where they are endangered. grass species may be present. Specifically, Fish and Wildlife has identified beach pigweed species as inhabiting local beaches.
About 50 populations of beach pigweed remain in the United States, but individual plants have been known to grow occasionally in coastal areas. The species was once relatively common along the eastern seaboard, but is locally extinct in New England and listed as endangered in New York, Rhode Island, Maryland, and New Jersey. It is considered nationally threatened, with North Carolina having a slightly healthier population. In recent years, the federal government has dispatched inspectors to look for blades of grass in the dune line or break through the sand of the beach berm.
Anglers’ fear of escalating restrictions is not unfounded; at times the federal agency has proposed sweeping access restrictions — at one point asking Seaside Heights to physically close all beaches north of Casino Pier in downtown. Christopher Vaz, the borough administrator of this city, finally managed to stave off the restrictions that could have nearly destroyed the tourist economy.
There was no objection from officials to delay passage of the ordinance after a number of speakers addressed the council. One man, Al Dolce of the Central Jersey Wounded Warrior Project, said reduced vehicular access to the beach could cost disabled veterans their favorite hobby.
“They may not be ambulatory to the point where they can go to the beach and fish,” Dolce said. “The sportsmen of this state have done a terrific job with our soldiers, taking them hunting and fishing, and one such responsible group is the Beach Buggy Association. These plants are on the dunes – our people don’t go up the dunes, we go up to the beach to fish.
“They’ll use every excuse they can to shut down access,” said one of the veterans who fishes at Brick. “Most people have no power other than to go to one of these meetings. I never spoke of a hunter or a fisherman who ransacks the land. Why would they ruin their own playground?
Bobby Deleonard, former president of the Beach Buggy Association, warned that access restrictions could expand over time to the point of affecting general access to ocean beaches in the township.
“If they make you ban beach buggies, eventually they’ll tell you you can’t rake the beach in the morning,” he said, as an example. “That’s where it happens.”
Council President Vincent Minichino said a committee of the governing body would meet to discuss its options in the face of the federal government’s proposal. The township will also consider a request from members of the Beach Buggy Association to form a separate committee to work on city-specific rules, as they have done in other municipalities.