Access to water has long been an issue in New Jersey. It’s almost invariably framed as a fight over ocean beaches between towns and visitors.
For a smaller and highly motivated group, access is about getting to the fish that are in the water.
Because they’re far short of the millions who visit New Jersey beaches annually, fishermen often have a tougher time asserting their access rights. That’s one reason the multilevel effort to improve their access to Absecon Inlet in Atlantic City is so welcome.
The seven jetties of the inlet put fishermen within an easy cast of deep waters frequented by South Jersey’s signature fish, including striped bass, tautog, flounder, bluefish, weakfish, triggerfish and even sheepshead. For decades the place has been a favorite for locals and visitors.
But the recently completed rebuilding of the adjacent Atlantic City Boardwalk along the inlet inadvertently put a big hurdle in the path to the jetties. That won’t stop many fishermen, but now they have to climb over railings and jump down several feet or walk a narrow plank — while carrying fishing gear.
Even before this month’s signing into law of new protections for the public’s right to waterway access, officials representing the region, state, city and federal government were supporting an effort to provide inlet jetty access from the Boardwalk.
The builders of the new Boardwalk pledged their help. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it would explore the access possibilities with the city. The state Department of Environmental Protection said it would consider what it could do to further access.
Rep. Jeff Van Drew, whose talks with fishing interests in Atlantic City during last year’s campaign made him aware of the issue, said he is forming a committee to tackle the technical challenges of safe and secure access to the jetties and to find a source for funding the project. He spoke confidently about getting it done: “We know this is a doable process and something we can accomplish.”
That’s great. It can only help that the new access bill signed by Gov. Phil Murphy at the start of this month establishes clearly in state law the public trust doctrine that waterways are common property kept in trust for use by all people.
The legislation was a bipartisan product of business and environmental interests working together, and “supported by almost every major conservation, fishing and surfing organization in the state, from beach advocates to defenders of access along urban waterways,” said the American Littoral Society.
Given that the jetty access will be government designed, funded and built, it will meet a high standard for safety and durability — and will take longer than fishermen want.
More than 1,000 of them signed a 2016 petition to the city for such access. We’re pretty sure that when the job is finished, it will seem worth the wait.