LONGPORT – A group of anglers hankering to cast their lines in the Longport surf during the upcoming Atlantic County Surf Fishing Derby will attend the next Board of Commissioners meeting to advocate for the borough to join in the fun.
“I’m planning on attending,” derby organizer Ed Berger of Margate said. “Having access to Longport beach is not only good for what has become a legacy derby, it’s good for the anglers, many of whom are getting up in age.”
At the Sept. 5 meeting, Mayor Nicholas Russo advocated for the borough’s participation but was unable to obtain a second on his motion to approve a resolution that would allow anglers to drive their vehicles onto the beach.
Commissioners Jim Leeds and Dan Lawler expressed concern about the borough’s inability to obtain a Beach Maintenance Permit from the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, and agreed this is not the year to allow vehicles on the beach.
“I don’t see any reason why we should not have access,” Berger said. “All of the other Downbeach towns provide access.”
“I want to revisit Longport’s participation,” Russo said in a telephone interview Wednesday, Sept. 12. “I believe I have all of the commissioners’ concerns addressed.”
Because Longport’s commission form of government includes just three commissioners, Russo is not permitted to discuss the issue with his fellow commissioners outside of a public meeting.
Russo said he has been in contact with the DEP’s director of Land Use Regulation, Diane Dow, who indicated that since CAFRA (Coast Area Facillities Review Act) does not consider vehicles on the beach as development, the borough would not need CAFRA authorization.
Additionally, the DEP has not prohibited Public Works vehicles from accessing the beach so workers can clean the lower portion of the beach, he said.
“We are allowed to maintain the lower part of the beach, just not move any sand that makes up the dune,” Russo said.
Additionally, the DEP indicated Longport has no documented evidence of a habitat for any threatened or endangered plant species or sea bird, such as the piping plover, Russo said.
The Atlantic County Surf Fishing Derby being held on Absecon Island and Brigantine Sept. 23 to Nov. 17 has been in existence for more than 40 years. According to Police Chief Frank Culmone, the borough has only participated three years – from 2013 to 2015 – and during that time there were more complaints than fishers requesting permits, he told commissioners Sept. 5.
This year’s derby honors Pat Erdman, who with his wife helped organize the derby for many years. Erdman passed away last year.
“Pat was a lifelong surf fisherman,” Berger said. “He was with Al McReynolds when he caught the world record striper off the jetty in Atlantic City. That world record, a 78.8-pound striper, held for many years.”
The $25 registration fee is used for prizes in various categories, and if there’s any money left over after expenses and seed money for the following year, the funds are divvied up and given to police benevolent organizations in participating municipalities, Berger said.
“For our guys and gals who are older or those who bring their children to teach them how to fish, it’s a big schlepp over the dunes,” Berger said. “It’s a wonderful family event.”
Berger said those who cause problems, such as speeding on the beach or leaving trash behind, could simply have their permits rescinded.
In addition to paying the entry fee, fishers who want to drive their vehicles onto the beach are required to show their license, registration and derby pin to obtain a permit from each municipality. Some towns, such as Atlantic City, require anglers to present a copy of their insurance declaration page as proof of insurance.
“They’ve been doing it that way for years,” he said. “In all the years I’ve been involved, I’ve never heard any complaints. We’re better stewards of the environment than most people. We’re good guys.”
Berger, who admits being if fishing die-hard, said he often casts his line for about 90 minutes in the early morning hours before he leaves for work.
Russo said he encourages fishers to attend the meeting to advocate for access.
“These are public beaches and I feel very strongly that we should provide access. I don’t want to be in a position where I’m denying access to anyone, especially those with mobility issues,” he said.