The Fish Story

Time Is Right to Storm Trenton as Public Trust Doctrine Bulks Up

Gettin' Ready to Rumble Over Beach Access
By JAY MANN | Jul 23, 2019
Photo by: Carol Brandt Julie Ruth shows off a couple of the many blowfish being taken in Barnegat bay.

Surf City — This week I’m committed to going public with a long-festering Island issue. You’ll want to read this. In fact, over 90 percent of all LBI aficionados have long been ready to storm this matter as if it’s Area 51. Please bear with me as I ease into the issue slowly, as if pouring water into hot olive oil. I’ll understandably be assuming an LBI angle.

Trenton recently took significant legal action to beef up the state’s ancient Public Trust Doctrine, which has historically, maybe hypothetically, assured the public’s right to access New Jersey’s mighty fine beaches. The doctrine’s inner core dates to when Romans sunbathed the coastline, i.e. the concept stems from Roman precepts.

This quasi legal document guarantees the rights of the citizenry to reach the beach and carry on activities common to beaching it. Unfortunately, as pretty as the doctrine looks on parchment paper, it has shriveled in court, where lawyers for beach privatization types – along with many a doctrine-defying coastal town – successfully picked it apart, proving it was too vague – entirely too for-the-people-ish, as opposed to legal-ish. The recent tweaks should endow it with far greater legal clout.

The NJ Department of Environmental Protection, the agency now entrusted and empowered with guaranteeing beaches are publicly available/enjoyable to the nth degree, is already brainstorming actions to remove any suspected encumbrances folks might run into when trying to reach the beach. Have any in mind? I’ll soon remind you that you do.

At a recent conference at Stockton University, DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe was critical of the state’s public doctrinizing to date, saying it has fallen short when assuring the public’s right to “have both physical and visual access to the water in a fair and equitable way.” Note well that “fair and equitable.”

“Enjoying the Shore is one of the best parts of life in New Jersey. As the trustee of the natural resources of the state, I consider it a priority to ensure open and equal access to New Jersey’s treasured coastlines for all of our residents,” she said. “I look forward to working with the land use and coastal planning experts at DEP to craft the regulations to implement this important legislation.”

The DEP’s initial focus is a bit boring, emphasizing stuff like parking, which is already pretty much as plentiful as LBI can muster – having “X” number of parking spots trying to conveniently accommodate “XXX” number of visitors. Note “conveniently” because we almost always have plenty of parking toward the bay. McCabe suggests parking as far as a quarter-mile from a targeted beach is still a decent standard. Consider it done since most of LBI is barely a quarter-mile wide.

Another mundaneish DEP effort is looking into outhouses – not voyeuristically, just in such a way that everyone gets to go … in a convenient and, let’s say, non-oceanic manner. However, on LBI, striving for a proper potty presence at this late date is like trying to jam a toilet into a can of sardines. Uh, I think that makes a little sense, seeing this is (allegedly) a fishing column and all.

But those obvious targets are but surface scratchers. The DEP is also actively seeking public input on any troubling beach matters. This quest means there’s no better time – and it might not come again for many a lifetime – to ponder … beach badges.

Now, cool your premature jets! This is not even vaguely going in a “Ban the Badges” direction. The badge matter has been debated to dullness and comes out highly favoring Shore towns – saddled with the dire expenses of keeping clean and safe beaches open to the public. Face it, people make an unholy mess – and then go into the water and periodically commence to drowning.

As a wised-up LBI lifer, I will assure with both data and conviction that the revenue garnered from badge sales goes exclusively to maintaining beaches, which includes lifeguards and daily cleanups. It has never been so expensive cleaning and protecting beaches, as summer employees get locked into our new high-end minimum wage.

In this day and wage, nary a town on LBI could stay solvent if it had to assume beach-related expenses via property taxes. The average hit to Island taxpayers would kill locals in their tracks. Frighteningly, the absurdly rich would be the only hangers-on. Take a wild guess at what that affluent mentality would think about lovingly hosting common everyday Joes and Janes? The seemingly granitized Public Trust Doctrine would dissolve like sugar in a designer espresso.

Now to the bomb. It’s a subject that will make you jump from your chairs in rapt agreement, knocking over an untold number of nearby beverages and sending the dog fleeing for its life.

The time is white hot for demanding (wait for it) … an Island-wide beach badge (!).

Oh, I see some of you plopping back into your chair all, “We’ve been through that. They never listen.” Well, they just might have to listen at this upgraded Public Trust Doctrine point in time. And show some respect to the fact that I just infuriated nearly every municipal council and commission on the Island, all of which seem undemocratically dedicated to requiring six separate, costly beach badges to access all of LBI’s sands. Can you imagine a local ballot question reading: “Would you like to see a combined beach badge for all Long Beach Island?” Any guesses at the overwhelming outcome?

I’ll repeat that there is no better time than now for folks to condemn the current six-badge LBI setup as being onerous to the public and contrary to the doctrine’s main mandate regarding “fair and equitable” access.

While admitting that LBI has a unique setup, badge-wise, we’ve still had over 40 years to closely monitor beach badge sales. It would not require rocket science to come up with a “fair and equitable” disbursal of revenues among all LBI municipalities. We’ve had our intelligences insulted for years by officials saying it would be “too complicated” to figure out a judicious town-by-town badge revenue payout. As a nation, we’re readying a manned flight to Mars yet somehow the disbursement of beach badge revenue on Long Beach Island can apparently confound a team of summa cum laude Princeton graduates.

Face it, nothing need change for a single town under One Badge rule. Each municipality would continue to get what they’ve garnered for the past four decades. Increased or decreased sales could be fractioned in annually. What’s more, towns could sell badges the same as always. Badges could even remain town specific, i.e. “Surf City.” There might even be a bit of savings by consolidating badge purchases, loading up on just “LBI” badges.

All that said, it will be up to influential folks/groups to jump at this opportunity to plow under the Island’s stupid six-badge unfairness. It comes down to getting word to the NJDEP. I’ll investigate exact addresses and such, but I’m hoping maybe some organizations (surfing, fishing, environmental, taxpaying, business, chambers of commerce) might want to jump into action. This Island-based effort could include anyone who visits here. That’s a formidable block of NJ citizenry. Unfortunately, I don’t have all their email addresses.

I’ll depart with the word of the DEP czaress: “It will not be an easy time. Lots of people have very strong opinions. We are all very, very attached to our beaches and (keeping) our beaches the way they were. We don’t like to change.”

In our case, our beach attachment would only get that much stronger. Let’s hear it: “Just one badge! Just one badge!”

RUNDOWN: I’m not a huge promoter of overnight global warming impacts, but the weekend’s record-breaking 100-degree temps proved I don’t like the entire overheating concept. Of course, I still clearly recall egging on planetary warming during last winter’s frozen bay days.

To an odd degree, global warming is in the eyes of the behold, or maybe the skin of the beholder. I’d venture to say NJ would gladly take longer summers and shorter winters. The problem is such changes can foster unimagined and wholesale disruptions of the ecosystem, ushering in some unbearable weather and bay/ocean deterioration.

The heat wave – technically three days in a row of 90-degree temps – left the bay hot and a bit bothered. At least one famed species of fish, summer flounder, abandoned Barnegat Bay and slipped into something more comfortable, as into the cool ocean. At the same time, species like mummichogs (minnows) proved their bad-assedness by shrugging off 90-degree, oxygen-starved waters in backbay creeks. Generally, common bay fish, like (plentiful) blowfish and weakfish, headed to any deeper waters.

Mercifully, the bay has seemingly avoided alga blooms related to the solar beatdown – knock on driftwood. Blooms could have all too easily busted out with these astronomical rainfall amounts, which offload freshets into the bay. Those are eddy-like freshwater runoffs that can spread halfway across the bay – mainland-to-Island and vice versa. Ripe with road matter and yard fertilizer, they can explode with bad algae. So far, so good, though we still have tons of summer heat and rain to go. Fingers crossed that bay will continue to stave off eco-ugly imbalances. I should mention that the public’s reduction in fertilizer use is surely helping the cause. Please, keep up the good work.

I’ve done three more jaunts to High Bar Harbor area seeking clinging jellyfish, nasty stingers of the highest order, though not really aggressive. Seriously. It takes a combination of their being around in goodly numbers and bad wading luck to take a hit from one of these secretive little jellies. Their fame is worse than their sting. I found el zero clingers. Nonetheless, be vigilant when seining, a very common Island pastime.

The troughs of LBI’s front beaches are absolute packed with small fluke. I saw a couple fluke surfcasters nabbing a flattie on almost every retrieve toward the north end.

Not sure why the shark bite has fallen off – or if it really has. The boys are getting wise to advertising their catches – and releases, though folks confiding in me said their hooking has dropped off dramatically. Next week’s column will get into the entire, muddled shark-fishing scene. I’m trying to contact state authorities regarding recent warnings pretty much condemning surf fishing for them.

I saw a huge rough-tailed stingray get hooked and released in the shallows. Its wingspan was equivalent to three cow-nosed rays.

Many cow-nosed rays; I’m not sure if the hyper-heated bay might keep them off the bayside clam beds. My guess is they wait until dark to venture inside. With blueclaw crab numbers exploding, the rays might have plenty enough easy grabs to eat. They’ll always take crabs over clams.

Kingfish bite has again surged. They’re often in very close to the beach. Many have sand fleas in their bellies. I don’t know if it’s a new wave of kingies since they’re running larger than before. Maybe they’re simply getting big fast on our tons of sand crabs and coquina clams. Bloodworms and fake-o plastics are nabbing them.

Blowfishing is phenomenal. Folk getting fine advice from tackle shops – and boat rental docks – are into them with the first drop. Chumming is essential for big hauls but even non-chummers (using fluke rigs in some instances) are finding them. Also, seiners are netting dozens of tiny, half-dollar-sized young-of-year. A couple aquarists have made the mistake of placing them in saltwater aquariums. You better hate every other living creature in the tank to do that, including “live rocks/stones.”

I might need help confirming that this might be the biggest Spanish mackerel showing in recent history. Primarily boat fishing catches. Not only are they considered fine table fare (highly freezable) but they can be salted in an old-fashioned layering manner and frozen – to be used as chunk bait in the fall. Kinda need blues to have that mackerel bait shine. Salted or fresh mack strips make good fluke bait.

Small striped bass are hanging around the North Jetty, Barnegat Inlet. Unoccasional stripers are coming out of the surf, all really small, mainly grabbing kingfish baits.

No further word on the recent tidal wave of triggerfish except from others who caught them by the dozens late last week. No way that many fish just flew the coop, so hookup happenings should be recurring. Got a comment from folks who cooked them whole (BBQ) and dipped them in butter. They sang out the praises of this white-fleshed fish.

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