Sportsmen's rights must be protected- NJ.com
Sportsmen's rights must be protected
Friday, July 11, 2008
BY J.B. KASPER
OUTDOORS COLUMNIST

When I was growing up, the traditional outdoor sports of fishing and hunting were a big part of life in the Trenton area.

At one time there were six tackle shop-sporting goods stores in Trenton. Some of you might remember Beaver Sporting Goods on Hamilton Avenue, Ernie's Tackle Shop on Clinton Avenue, Capitol Sporting Goods on Olden Avenue, Zotto's Tackle Shop on Hamilton Avenue and Brunswick Sports and Hardware on Brunswick Avenue. That was back in the 1950s and 1960s, now only Brunswick Sports is left in the city and they have changed hands several times.

My point is this, times have changed and so have the people in the Trenton area and the Garden State in general. Trenton was surrounded by farms and two-lane roads back then and, let's face it, no one got carpal tunnel syndrome from playing video games.

Coming home from school and grabbing your shotgun and going hunting or your fishing rod and going fishing didn't even garner a look from most people. Try that today!

Then, the most you got from anyone was, "Good luck," or "Did you get anything?" No one ever thought the day would come when fishing and hunting would be under attack from animal rights groups, environmental zealots, politicians, anti-gun fanatics and other people who, for the most part, do not understand the outdoors.

Back then many of us belonged to clubs and other outdoor groups for the camaraderie and fun that went along with the outdoors. As most of you who read my columns know, I have always been a big advocate of the organized sportsmen. In today's world, when sportsmen are under attack from every corner, it's more important than ever for sportsmen to be organized. It's only through strength in numbers, and there are over close to a million hunters and fishermen in New Jersey, that the outdoor community, in particular fishermen and hunters, can have their voice heard. Think about it, a million sportsmen. That's a lot of votes.

Last year, legislation was introduced that would change the makeup of the Fish & Game Council, a council that has served the state in its present form for more than 50 years and has done a super job of balancing fish and wildlife with an ever-shrinking habitat in the most densely populated state in the union. The legislation would have put people on the council with no wildlife management experience or background, and, perhaps some people who are anti-sportsmen.

Fortunately, the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance was established. It is a grassroots coalition made up of 15 sportsmen's organizations that are looking out for sportsmen's rights in New Jersey. Anthony P. Mauro, the chairman of the group, told me the mission of NJOA is to serve as a grassroots coalition of outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen dedicated to the principles of wildlife conservation. It seeks to advance and defend hunting, fishing and trapping as the foundation of conservation methodology by guarding against legal and legislative assaults on hunting, fishing, and trapping. It will accomplish this goal by supporting those legislators, and working to advance legislation that meets with the organization's ideals and enriches our outdoor heritage.

The NJOA has hired Bill Pacrel III as a full-time lobbyist in Trenton and is currently working on several projects that can make a big difference in life in the outdoors for sportsmen in New Jersey.

The first is a no brainer, "Hooked on Fishing not Drugs" that should be supported by the entire legislature. A popular program in many states, it uses fishing as a way of keeping kids away from drugs and in the outdoors. The second piece of legislation is a bill that would change the distance that bow hunters must be from a dwelling from 450 yards to 150 feet. The third bill is another piece of legislation -- "the right to hunt and fish" -- that is being adopted by more and more states to protect our traditional outdoor heritage.

The fourth bill is one that has plenty of support from every fishing organization and other outdoor groups in the state. Known as the "Reef Bill", it would make it illegal for commercial fishermen to place commercial fishing traps known as "pots" on the artificial reefs along the New Jersey coast. Sportsmen's money and work have built the artificial reefs along the coast as a habitat for fish and other marine life. In recent years, the commercial fishing industry has been putting more and more pressure on the reefs by surrounding them with traps and making them unfishable for recreational fishermen and divers as they were intended.

A good amount of the money used to build the reefs has come from federal grants, such as the "aid to restoration of fisheries." This money comes with the stipulation that the reefs be used for recreational fishing and diving. The state could face the loss of these monies because the reefs are not being used for their intended purpose. The bill currently sits in committee being held up by legislators who refuse to release it for a vote. Sportsmen need to back the NJOA on this bill and start calling their legislators to demand that the bill not only be released, but be voted into law.

The NJOA deserves and needs the support of sportsmen, both financially and manpower-wise. It's a full-time job to defend sportsmen's rights.
So roll up your sleeves and join the NJOA; it's only $25, a small price to pay for the defense of your outdoor rights. You can find out more about the NJOA at their website at njoutdooralliance.org

You can reach us with your fishing or hunting reports, comments or questions by e-mail at jb.kasper@verizon.net or jbkasper@hotmail.com; or by mail at J.B. Kasper c/o The Times, 500 Perry St., Trenton, NJ 08666.