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Sandy Killed Coastal Fishing

Securing basic needs puts fishing, hunting on backburner

By: Jay Kumar,

Barely a week has gone since Hurricane Sandy bashed through New Jersey and parts of New York, Connecticut and a few other states. It happened so fast, and devastation on that scale is so new to the Northeast, that people and businesses are still trying to deal with basic needs like shelter, food and the all-important electrical power – while a major Nor'easter with high winds and snow is currently adding another layer of woe.

So things like hunting and fishing aren't on the radar for many. Still, these states are home to fishing and hunting businesses, plus it's deer season, small game is about to start in New Jersey and the stripers are on their annual fall run down the East Coast.

Some hunters are getting out: the fortunate few who have power, some semblance of normal lives – back at work, kids back in school, power and warmth at home – and don't have downed power lines blocking their routes to hunting areas. But the striper season isn't going to happen this year. Sandy killed it.

"Everyone's still trying to determine what the impacts are," said Jim Sciacia, spokesman for the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. "We're still trying to assess the damage of the storm. But the thing affected most will be marine fishing – surf and inshore off a boat – because of marina and boat damage, and access for surf fishing."

"It's devastated here. There's nothing I can say. We're done 'til June, we're out of business," said Pete Crosta, owner of Atlantic Highlands Bait and Tackle in Atlantic Highlands, N.J., one of many coastal fishing ports that should be super-busy this time of year. "The Atlantic Highlands marina is totally devastated – marines, coves, piers.  Boats are not only in disarray, they're sunk, they're in the channels, people can't find boats. Party boats don't even have a place to tie up, boat ramps are closed, and nobody can come down [for surf fishing] because the beaches are closed.

"So when you take a look at the impact, [Sandy] destroyed the fall fishing."

Even so, he's open for business, even though there isn't any.

"Whatever bait we have – who's going to come down and buy it?" he said. "What good is carrying jigs if there's not a boat around to go jig fishing?

"It's going to be a real thin next six months – we'll just try to stay alive. That's it. We'll be looking at trying to get some FEMA money and some [government] loans, but if they don't rebuild the piers and marinas, it's no good."

Crosta is one of a literal few coastal tackle shop owners that is open and has a working phone line. Most in New Jersey and New York can't be reached, a fact underlined when talking to Al Ristori, New Jersey's longtime guru of marine fishing reports. He's typically in touch every day with the marine scene.

"I'm not getting calls, I'm not getting emails – everything is really kind of surreal,” he sadi. “Most of the shops you can't reach because they're closed or the power is out."

He also can't get out on the water. "You can't fish at all. It's really very frustrating knowing you could do it if they let you. But they [usually the National Guard] won't let you into any of these shore towns.

"There's no fuel either, down there on the water, so you pretty much have to have a trailered boat and find an open ramp."

He noted that he'd heard a few party boats [many of which rode out the storm in dry dock] and charter boats were planning to go out this weekend, but fishermen may not be able to get to where the boats are or find any parking if they do.

Connecticut doesn't seem as bad, but coastal fishing in New York, particularly Long Island and the New York City area, was hit just as bad as New Jersey.

"You've seen pictures of all the boats stacked up on the streets – it's just a travesty,” Sciacia said. “There really is no prediction of how long it'll take to recover. We don't even know full extent of the damage at this point."

He noted that the other coastal outdoor pursuit – waterfowl hunting – should not be affected in terms of habitat or birds, but will likewise suffer from an inability of hunters to get to coastal spots.

"Some areas of the marshes weathered the storm pretty well because all they had was higher water," he said. "A lot of salt marsh areas are still intact. And the waterfowl will adjust. They're not going to bypass New Jersey."

However, reports have surfaced of waterfowl pond dams breaking, which will affect some hunting – presuming those ponds can be accessed.

Lori Severino, press officer for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, said no one in her agency could comment yet on Sandy's effects.

"We are still assessing the impacts of the storm and do not have an update at this time," she stated.

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