ATLANTIC CITY — Fish love to hang out by rock jetties.
So that’s where fishermen love to hang out — ‘rock hopping’ and casting their lines from the top of the huge boulders.
But the jetties can be difficult to get to from the new Boardwalk in the Absecon Inlet, constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and owned by the city.
Some require climbing over railings and walking down a thin wooden board onto the rocks 10 feet below, all while carrying fishing gear.
“There’s no kind of way I’d go down there,” said 1st Ward Councilman Aaron “Sporty” Randolph at a news conference Monday across from the Flagship Resort on Maine Avenue.
The event was held by U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-2, with representatives of state and federal agencies and city officials.
Van Drew said he is forming a committee that will begin meeting soon to discuss options available for solving the problem, both to tackle the technical challenges and the funding challenges.
“We are at the point where we’ve spoken with the Army Corps ... the DEP (state Department of Environmental Protection) and we know this is a doable process, and something we can accomplish,” Van Drew said.
It’s happening in the wake of the state legislature passing a bill that codifies the “public-trust doctrine,” which states that everyone has a right to enjoy tidal waters and shorelines.
Sport fisherman Dan Ponzio, of Arthur W. Ponzio & Associates engineering firm in the resort, said he has seen welded heavy aluminum stairways work well under similar conditions in south Florida.
“They are all open, there is no kick plate, so the water goes right through — there is no water resistance,” Ponzio said.
The city owns the Boardwalk, but the design of it and the sea wall are controlled by the funders — the Army Corps and the DEP. So all three need to work together to find a solution.
“This is something Las Vegas doesn’t have ... something most other gaming venues don’t have,” said Van Drew, gesturing towards the ocean and inlet.
“But we need to have proper, safe, attractive access in order to accomplish the goals that we want,” including diverse offerings for tourists and better quality of life for residents, he said.
Rich Hedenberg of R.H. Custom Rods in Galloway Township, is both a sport fisherman and a business owner dependent on a strong fishing community.
While people can fish from the Boardwalk, the striped bass and tautog they are seeking now, and fish such as flounder at other times of year, are more numerous further out and near the rocks, Hedenberg said.
Dave Rosenblatt, the assistant DEP commissioner for engineering and construction, said his agency helped build the new Boardwalk, and “anything we can do to further enhance that access, we’re open to discussion.”
“I’ll echo what Dave just said,” said Army Corps Project Manager Keith Watson, who oversaw the building of the Boardwalk and sea wall. “We will be working with the city to see what else can be done in the future.”
Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, said fishing attracts people from all over to the resort.
“You see the cars parked along the road here, the cars are from Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut. It’s a viable attraction to bring people here to diversify the economy. The issue of safety is important and of course we have to find the money to make it happen,” Mazzeo said.
Van Drew became aware of the issue when campaigning last year, he said.
“I remember walking along here and talking to a lot of folks and fishermen that just didn’t have the access they really needed,” Van Drew said.
Noel Feliciano, owner of One Stop Bait & Tackle on Atlantic Avenue in the Inlet, said Van Drew had stopped by his store a couple of times to find out what issues were of concern to the fishing community.
In 2016, Feliciano collected more than 1,000 signatures on a petition, asking the city to give fishermen access to jetties from the new seawall, which was still being built. It opened in the spring of 2017.
The Army Corps of Engineers said at the time it had no plans to build access routes to jetties, but city engineer Russ Cipolla said the city would provide connectors.
“Better late than never,” Feliciano said. “Whatever they can actually do, I’m happy with.”
He said he makes a living doing what he loves, and takes a special interest in getting kids interested in fishing. It’s important to give families something to do in town other than gaming, he said.
”We need to get our youth off Xboxes and picking up tackle boxes,” said Feliciano.