On Thursday, Jan. 17, DNREC’s Division of Parks & Recreation will host an open meeting for the public, beginning at 9:30 a.m., at the Dover Public Library, 35 East Loockerman Street, Dover, on the topic of surf-fishing permits.
The Parks & Rec staff will be making a presentation on proposed rate increases and limits for surf-fishing permits. Following the presentation, the public will have an opportunity to comment on the proposed rate increases, which would go into effect on Feb. 1 if approved.
The proposal is to raise in-state residents’ surf-fishing permit fees to $90, which is an increase of $10 from last year. Out-of-state residents would pay $180 for the annual surf-fishing permit, which is an increase of $20. The permit holders would continue to receive the benefit of an included annual pass that offers access to all 17 of Delaware’s state parks.
One person with a strong interest in the meeting is Rich King, owner of the Delaware Surf Fishing website (www.delaware-surf-fishing.com). He said he is not opposed to the potential rate increase if it means the money the State stands to make goes toward the areas he said need it most.
“I think — and this is just my guess — you will see an increase in enforcement … enforcement like never before,” King said. “By that, I mean the fishing on the beaches has gotten more popular. However, there is a gray area between ‘actively’ fishing and ‘actually’ fishing.”
Surf-fishing permits are required for anyone wanting to drive onto Parks & Rec-controlled beaches. Vehicle use on the designated beaches is restricted to those actively engaged in surf-fishing.
According to DNREC, “‘Actively engaged in surf fishing’ means a person is taking all reasonable and necessary actions to maximize the probability of hooking and landing game fish by rod, reel and line attached to a baited rig, artificial lure or artificial fly. Persons are also actively engaged in surf fishing when they are within 50 feet of their fishing equipment and are tending, casting and recasting their fishing equipment.
“Any permitted surf fishing vehicle parked for any period of time on state park beaches without one or more persons who arrived in that vehicle being actively engaged in surf fishing is prohibited,” the state park regulations stipulate.
King said he felt like the problems along the shore have gotten out of hand, with the start of “stacked” parking of the vehicles.
“From the Fourth of July to the end of August, it is the busiest — especially on the weekends,” he said. “The problem is that they are getting people who get the permits who are casting a line to justify being there. Their families are out in the water swimming, and they are partying on the beach.
“However, someone that pays to be able to fish should be able to fish.”
And therein lies a continually growing issue along the Southern Delaware beaches. How do officials regulate the situation?
The proposal from Parks & Rec also includes limiting the number of surf-fishing permits issued, with a cap of 17,000 annually. In 2017, the State sold 17,104 permits. Along with the new cap, the proposed fee increase is designed both to help ensure the public’s safety and to maintain the quality user experience at the designated multi-use beaches.
“That’s good — that’s part of the enforcement I am talking about,” King concluded. “What you have here are adults that don’t want to follow the rules established, and Parks is overwhelmed with trying to enforce those rules.
“There has to be a resolution to allow those that want to actually use their permit to enjoy themselves, who are actually fishing. It is a big recreation activity down here, and they have to find a way to consistently enforce the rules that come with owning the permit.”
The beaches have a capacity, and the Division of Parks & Recreation is seeking to limit the number of permits issued to assist in managing the surf-fishing program. The priority is to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all visitors. A limit on the number of permits issued, officials believe, would help ease future congestion on all multi-use beaches.
Delaware’s state park system is primarily self-funded. Of the funds used to operate and maintain the parks, 65 percent comes from the collection of user fees. The revenue that is generated by the proposed fee increase would advance the division’s efforts to improve amenities, and increase the presence of park regulations and law enforcement at ocean parks.
Roughly 13,000 in-state permits were purchased last year, with the other 4,000 from out-of-state, according to King. Under that split and the proposed increased fee structure, the revenue on in-state permits for 2019 would be about $1.17 million — up about $130,000 from 2018. About $720,000 would come from out-of-state purchases — up by about $80,000. That’s a potential for a total of $1.89 million for the State in 2019 sales, an increase of about $210,000 in revenue.
Parks & Rec officials have the right to increase park user fees, under Section 87 of the 2019-fiscal-year bond bill, though that requires “adequate opportunity for public comment and approval of the appropriate public advisory council.” The council is an 11-member board that is appointed by the governor. They serve in an advisory capacity to the Division of Parks & Rec. A council discussion and vote on the issue is scheduled to follow public comments on Jan. 17.
The public can also submit written comments in advance of the Jan. 17 meeting, online at www.destateparks.com/FeeProposal. Written comments can also be sent to: Greg J. Abbott, Attn.: Surf-fishing permit fee proposal, DNREC Division of Parks & Recreation, 89 Kings Highway, Dover, DE 19901, prior to the Jan. 17 meeting. More information is also available at https://publicmeetings.delaware.gov/Meeting/61600.
By Jason Feather