Surf fishing permits are selling fast, nearing limit

DOVER — The state has about 2,000 surf fishing permits left to sell before reaching their cap of 17,000 — set earlier this year — and they’re selling at a brisk pace.

The permits enable anglers to drive onto Delaware State Parks beaches to surf fish. There are no restrictions for non-vehicle, “walk-on” fishing, as long as an angler has a Delaware fishing license issued by DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife, said the agency.

Clark Evans, owner of Old Inlet Bait & Tackle and President of the Delaware Mobile Surf-fishermen club, says the permits sold a lot faster than many thought they would.

“Any time you say something is ‘limited’ there’s a kind of a gold rush mentality and people run out to get them,” he said. “A this point, I’d be stunned if the remaining permits last another 10 days.”

In January, Delaware’s Parks & Recreation Advisory Council, an 11-member board appointed by the governor that advises DNREC’s Division of Parks & Recreation, voted to limit the number of permits issued annually to no more than 17,000, and to raise surf fishing permit fees.

Both decisions were made at a council meeting where the board received written and oral comments from more than 100 members of the public.

According to DNREC, that rationale behind the new policy enables their enforcement team to more efficiently manage the surf fishing program, helps to manage limited resources and protects against overcrowding.

As the popularity of surf fishing permits for the state’s drive-on beaches has grown, so has the practice of obtaining them for non-fishing purposes, DNREC claims.

Division of Parks & Recreation statistics show that the issuing of surf fishing permits has increased at a rate of seven percent annually from 2011 to 2017.

The division reported a three-fold increase over the last year for violations of the “actively-engaged in surf fishing” rule enforced by DNREC Natural Resources Police Park Rangers.

In response, the Division of Parks & Recreation has added a new, full-time Delaware Natural Resources Police park ranger for the coastal region, and has expanded rangers’ workweeks from 37.5 to 40 hours, creating 1,000 hours of additional coverage annually for the coastal parks. The “actively-engaged” rule continues to be a priority area for targeted enforcement.

Generally, the state’s anglers appear pleased with the new restrictions.

Mr. Evans says the members of the surf fishing club are hopeful that the limitation will cut down on overcrowding at the beaches, but want to monitor the policy closely to ensure it works as intended.

“The club is behind it in the short-term, but we don’t like the idea of a long-term cap,” he said. “We’ve had overcrowding issues for some time and there are some multi-use beaches and that have user conflicts with surfers, sunbathers, fishermen and residents that have houses along the beaches. Parks came up with the idea to cap it this year at 17,000 permits to start to get some control over the number of vehicles on the beach. While we don’t want to limit any access, we understand that they’re trying to make it better for all and give the people that want to be out there a quality user experience. We hope to work with Parks over the winter to talk about what was learned from this and how to make things better next year — we want to be part of the solution.”

Outdoors columnist and lifelong fisherman Rich King says overcrowding, specifically by people not fishing, has become a problem in recent years. While believing the new policy is a good step, he feels limiting the number of vehicles on the beaches may be better.

“Limiting the number of vehicles that can go out at one time would be better, just like Assateague (State Park in Md.),” he said. “It’s less wear and tear on the beach and more room to enjoy the beach, while not turning it into a parking lot. We’re already losing fishermen to the overcrowding issues — we have been for years.

A fishing ‘group’ or two tells people fishing is bad in the summer anyway, so it’s no big deal, but it is for the people who come here to actually fish, not just sit there and drink. It isn’t fair to the people who want to fish that can barely get the room to do so.

That is always going to be an issue until parks limits the number of vehicles on the sand. You could limit the tags to just the 9,999 numbered tags and the beach would still be crowded.”

Nevertheless, Mr. King also feels the remaining permits will sell fast.

“I expect that last 2,000 tags will go in the next three weeks or even less,” he said. “The fact that there are no online sales will make it difficult for any out-of-stater to get one also.

“The limit itself is generous, being just shy of the amount of tags they sold last year. It will not inhibit anyone who already has a tag so long as they keep theirs current. I think parks will see tags sell out faster each year, and it will get competitive.”

Surf fishing permit sales locations are currently limited to:
• Bellevue State Park office, 800 Carr Road in Wilmington
• Cape Henlopen State Park office, 15099 Cape Henlopen Drive in Lewes
• The Indian River Life-Saving Station store at Delaware Seashore State Park, 25039 Coastal Highway in Rehoboth Beach
• DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife sales desk at the Richardson & Robbins Building, 89 Kings Highway in Dover

Surf fishing permits will be sold at these locations until the 17,000 cap is reached, at which point 2019 permit sales will end.

According to DNREC, 65 percent of the funds used to operate and maintain Delaware State Parks come from the collection of user fees.

The agency says revenue generated by the new fee increase has advanced the Division of Parks & Recreation’s capacity to increase enforcement efforts, improve amenities and better educate park visitors on the state’s multi-use beaches.

Surf fishing permit holders continue to receive the benefit of their permit serving as an annual parks pass, providing access to all 17 of DNREC’s Delaware’s state parks. The reduction in sales locations is only limited to surf-fishing permits.

Annual passes are still available for purchase at 19 sales locations throughout the state parks system, and also can be purchased through sales agents and online.

More information on the surf fishing cap is available at destateparks.com/Adventures/Fishing or by calling 302-739-9200.

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

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