Commentary: Surf-fishing permit process is the one that got away


We’re well into the new year, spring is just around the corner, and excitement grows among the surf-fishing community. With warmer weather comes more opportunities to visit a state park or drive onto one of Delaware’s top-rated beaches.

Well, in previous years, anyway.

Surf-fishing permits went on sale Tuesday, Feb. 1, and within hours, all 17,000 that were made available sold out. During the mad rush to purchase, state parks saw hourslong lines. The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) website to buy the permits online crashed multiple times. Those lucky enough to snag one had to quite literally plan their entire day around the effort.

It wasn’t always like this. So what happened?

It’s a classic case of the government attempting to solve one problem but instead creating a new one. In 2019, DNREC first established the limit on the amount of permits available. This change came after the agency’s Division of Parks and Recreation received numerous complaints over the years from surf fishers regarding the lack of space on the beaches due to many individuals driving onto the beach to, essentially, have tailgate parties. These complaints from that community are valid, as many individuals venture out to the beach with their vehicles and do the bare minimum to appear to be actively surf fishing.

DNREC’s answer to this was to place a cap on the number of surf-fishing permits sold. The outcry from the public following the tags selling out was quite high in 2021 and resulted in Gov. John Carney issuing an additional 1,000 for sale through a modification to the original COVID-19 state of emergency order.

This year, due to heightened public awareness and an increased public relations push from DNREC, a “must-have” mentality was created, resulting in the mad rush to purchase a permit.

Delaware’s first responders were perhaps the group most adversely affected by this mess. Delaware Code entitles volunteer firefighters and EMT personnel to one free surf-fishing permit. Additionally, the code does not mention anything about this being dependent on whether the recently established cap on sales is reached or not. Based on the feedback I have received and have seen on social media, many of these individuals were not able to obtain one, despite state law.

We must do better, and we will do better.

Many of my legislative colleagues and I recently met with DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin and Division of Parks and Recreation director Ray Bivens. Through our conversations, a solution was reached to rectify the situation involving our volunteer first responders. An eligible individual who wants a permit will be given one. However, this is a short-term fix to a problem that will undoubtedly replicate itself in the coming years.

Constituents and stakeholders I have spoken to have presented several plausible ideas that could correct this:

  • Allow families with multiple four-wheel drive vehicles to purchase one permit that can be used interchangeably.
  • Create weekly passes for individuals who may be vacationing here and will not drive on week after week.
  • Give Delawareans the ability to purchase a surf-fishing permit one week prior to out-of-state individuals.
  • Simply remove the cap and have the division monitor the number of vehicles on the beach at peak times (which they currently do).

These and other solutions would correct the problem that has plagued the surf-fishing permit sales process. We hope that DNREC can solve this issue independently with the proper stakeholders at the table. Absent a permanent solution, the General Assembly must be prepared to pass legislation to solve these issues for the users of our award-winning beaches.

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn is a Georgetown Republican.

Members and subscribers make this story possible.
You can help support non-partisan, community journalism.