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Beach Conference 2006-Presentation by Freeholder Desiderio
Release Date: June 26, 2006

  Beach Conference 2006 - Presentation by
Freeholder Leonard C. Desiderio

The most crucial point from today’s conference is how exceedingly important both commercial and recreational fishing is to the economy as well as the character and overall well being of Cape May County. 

Throughout history we recognize that Cape May County’s past, present, and undoubtedly the future, is centered on the bounty of the sea.  From the whaling communities first established along the Delaware Bay in the 1600s to the small fishing villages that sprouted up along the Atlantic Coast and Delaware Bay, Cape May County’s growth and economic prosperity is closely tied to the fishing industry.  Fishing and farming continues to be an integral part of our heritage and today commercial fishing remains strong and is our second largest industry.

In 2005 Cape May County ranked 5th nationally in commercial fishing landings and generated $68.1 million.  Cape May County ranked 13th in the nation in pounds of fish landed with 97.5 million pounds.

In 1984 the commercial fishing industry was struggling in New Jersey.  Stricter regulations, over fishing of some fisheries, an influx of foreign fishing boats along our coast, and an aging fleet of commercial boats put stress on the industry.  For generations, many Cape May County families depended on commercial fishing for their livelihood and were feeling the impact.  In an effort to aid the commercial fishing industry and as part of an economic development effort, county government recognized the need to support this vital industry and worked with the State Office of Community Affairs and established the Revolving Fishing Loan Program.  As part of a small cities block grant, Cape May County was one of three counties to receive a $500,000 EDA grant to help the commercial fishing industry.  This low interest loan program was designed to allow local commercial boat owners to borrow money at a lower interest rate with less stringent terms than they could at a bank.  The program has helped them better afford making costly repairs and improvement to their aging fleet.  The program also allowed commercial boat owners to borrow money for the purchase of new state of the art fishing vessels, replacement or overhaul of engines, boat repairs, and equipment or dock related expenditures.  The Revolving Fishing Loan Program was successful from its inception and today is the only one of the three still in existence.  The Revolving Fishing Loan Program is operated through the Tourism Department and loans are reviewed and awarded by a committee of 7 individuals from the community that work with and understand the commercial fishing industry. 

In 2000 after 7 local fishermen lost their lives in boat accidents, the committee, under the direction of the Board of Chosen Freeholders, expanded the program to include a separate loan program for the purchase of safety equipment.  The safety program is open to commercial, charter, and party boats for the purchase of U.S. Coast Guard required safety equipment.  Each vessel owner can borrow up to $10,000 at 3% interest for the safety equipment.  The payback term for this loan is 5 years.  All vessels that are part of the program are required to have annual US Coast Guard Inspections.

Since 1984 nearly 100 loans have been awarded with more than $5.5 million dollars loaned to Cape May County Commercial boat owners.   As the loans are repaid with interest, the monies are returned to the account and available to be loaned out again.  This has allowed the program to expand.  Currently 15 loans are active with a balance in the account for more loans for new projects.  Over the years, the program and been adjusted to meet the needs of the industry.  Interest rate changes are adjustable to better compete with the banks and all RFLP loans are for a term of 7 years.  Loans cannot exceed $150,000 unless the project is exceptional and/or creates a high number of jobs.  All loans are based on credit worthiness of the borrower, scope of project, and job creation and retention.  Applicants must live or dock their boat in Cape May County. 

Equally important to the commercial aspect, recreational fishing has always been a significantly important activity for our residents as well as a primary attraction for our visitors.  Not only does it substantially enhance our local economy, it nurtures and strengthens the family oriented values that are so important to the character of our county.

Recreational fishing has brought millions of visitors to our ocean and bay waters, to fish by boat, on piers, and beaches to test their skills in catching the ‘big one’.  The Cape May County Charter and Party Boat Association has more than 85 charter and party boats that can take anglers ocean and bay fishing all year long.  More than 26 marine mammals and 336 marine finfish can be found along the New Jersey Shores.  In 1998, recreational fishing in New Jersey generated more than $500 million annually and created more than 6,000 jobs.  NOAA currently is conducting a Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistical Survey (MRFSS) to measure the economic impact of the recreational saltwater fishing industry.  All fishermen from private or party and charter boats will be surveyed dockside about the money they spent on that trip. They will also be asked to participate in a longer follow-up mail survey that collects information on annual expenditures and durable goods, like boats, trailers, rods and reels.  When completed, this data will allow NOAA Fisheries to estimate daily expenditures by fishing mode - private boat, charter, or shore - and whether resident or non-resident. 

Recognizing the value of recreational fishing, the Cape May County Annual Fishing Contest, now in its 71st year, is the longest continually running fishing contest on the east coast.  This contest has become a family favorite for generations and offers both residents and visitors an opportunity to participate in free family fun.  There is no registration fee and participants can enter their catch at numerous weigh stations throughout the county.  Each catch is recognized with a certificate and entry badge and the top three fish in each of the forty categories has the opportunity to win a fishing reel.  The contest runs from January 1 through December 30.  A brochure is available through the Cape May County Tourism Department that lists the rules and regulations for the fishing contest including the locations of all the weigh stations.

Additionally, the county has drafted a guide of recreational and marine activities and operators in Cape May County.  This guide will be posted to the county website and published for use by the County Tourism Department.  There are also guides available for you today.

In 2006 commercial and recreational fishing continues to drive the county’s economic engine as it did 400 years ago.  I would like to thank all of our speakers today that took time to discuss the issues facing commercial and recreational fishing entities in our county.

Thank you and have a great day.

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