Oh, for crying out loud.

The state Department of Environmental Protection - the same agency that is now willing to grant big developers waivers to the most serious environmental regulations - has hit 83-year-old Carmen Conti with a $5,000 fine.

What did he do?

He catches summer flounder for his family's restaurant in Sea Isle City by using ... a hand line.

For you non-fishermen out there, a hand line is about the most inefficient way there is to catch fish. It involves a single hook, dangling from a single line dropped over the side of a boat. You pull the line up by hand when you get a fish. There's no winch, no rod and reel - just, in this case, an old man fishing the way he has been fishing for more than 70 years.

Conti has a license to harvest flounder with a gillnet. He could get a lot more flounder that way - and harm lots of bycatch fish. But he has bad shoulders and can't haul the net.

So he drops eight lines over the side of his 42-foot boat and hauls up flounder that way - one at a time.

When it comes to commercial fishing, the most efficient method is usually the most damaging to the resource and the environment. Large numbers of fish are taken at one time; undersized fish, which can be injured in the net, must be thrown back; bycatch must be thrown back.

But a hand line? That's as inefficient - and therefore as environmentally friendly - as you get. Conti even uses circle hooks because they are less likely to injure the fish, and he can get more money for live fish that will be sold for sushi than for dead fish. The circle hooks also protect any bycatch that he must throw back.

So why is the state Division of Fish and Wildlife, which is part of the DEP, fining Conti $5,000? Well, it turns out you need a special permit to catch flounder commercially with a hook and line; the division issues only a handful of such permits, and there are none available right now.

If only the state protected the environment from rapacious developers as vigorously as it protects flounder from 83-year-old men with hand lines.

Conti has enlisted the help of state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, and the two appeared before the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council last week to plead for help.

To its credit, the council, which oversees fisheries management plans for the Division of Fish and Wildlife, seemed sympathetic to Conti's plight and promised to look into the matter.

We suspect it will be resolved in Conti's favor eventually.

But in the meantime, we're left to ponder why, in the first place, the state would allow a guy to fish for flounder with a gillnet, but prohibit him from using a hand line.

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