Recreational Fishing Alliance's on COVID-19

The Recreational Fishing Alliance has been active in support of recreational fishermen and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic on both the local and national political stage. As government reacts to reduce the spread of the virus through emergency regulatory actions, many questions arise as to what constitutes an “essential” business and what outdoor activities are permitted under emergency management orders.

Executive Order 107 issued by Governor Murphy of New Jersey on March 21 orders citizens of the State to remain in their places of residence until further notice and the closure of brick-and-mortar premises of non-essential businesses. It does not discourage citizens from participating in outdoor activities but does encourage the practice of “social distancing” when in public. The RFA strongly believes that recreational fishing is not only an approved outdoor activity, but also one that provides citizens the opportunity to obtain sustenance, yet questions remain about how the order is to be interpreted and the status of businesses that support recreational fishing.

The RFA has been in contact with Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, the Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police who also services as the State Director of Emergency Management,seeking a waver for recreational fishing related businesses from closers. Those businesses include tackle shops, bait dealers, andparty and charter boats. In their March 23, 2020 letter to Colonel Callahan, RFA sites specific wording in the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act’s (MSA) definition of recreational fishing to make the case that businesses serving recreational fishermen should be classified as “essential,” and allow for those catering to legal, sustainable harvest of seafood for personal consumption continue to operate within certain recent guidelines including limiting staff on site to the minimal number to ensure that operations can continue.

In these critical times the recreational fishing industry in all coastal states is facing dramatic losses. In New Jersey alonerecreational fishing is a crucial component of the economy supporting over 8,500 jobs and generating over $1.4 billion in annual sales. Tackle shops are being forced to close, charter and party boats are be forced to cancel trips and all the supporting businesses that supply these operations with fuel, bait, tackle and other products are being adversely impacted. Some will not be able to sustain the financial damage being done and others face a long, difficult road back to solvency.

The RFA has been in contact with Governor Murphy’s office and with the Department of Commerce regarding the recreational fishing industry’s ability to access “Fishery Disaster Funds” that are being made available to commercial fishing businesses. In a letter to the Governor dated March 25, 2020, we have requested the Governor submit a letter to Secretary Wilbur Ross at the DOC requesting that he declare New Jersey’s recreational fishing industry a federal fishery disaster as outlined in the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, 16. U.S.C. Section 4107. If granted, this would make those businesses eligible for emergency assistance from the Economic Development Administration. This is the first step in obtaining relief for affected businesses within the State and RFA will encourage other coastal state administrations to seek similar relief for recreational fishing businesses in their jurisdictions.

The RFA is also working with the appropriate Federal authorities on creating a stimulus package for the recreational fishing industry. More will be announced on this in the coming days.

As the COVID-19 saga unfolds, the RFA will remain steadfast in its support of recreational fishing and the industry and will continue to act as a watchdog while encouraging government to support anglers and businesses that provide goods and services to them.

Below are some links to relevant information for businesses, employers and the public during this crisis.

New Jersey Department of Labor Site with Information for NJ based employers

FEMA Website with grant assistance information for employers

New Jersey Jobs portal

Summary of federal COVID-19 Relief Act prepared by the National Manufacturers Association