Fish and Wildlife Division has long, rich history

November 26, 2011

Striper fishing at the mouth of the bay keeps getting better, and this weekend we are promised good weather so everyone should be able to get out. From what I heard about last Saturday, everyone was out and there were traffic jams at the Valley and the Eights. When a large number of boats congregate in the same location, it tends to put rockfish off their feed, but big fish were caught by those who toughed it out.

Tog fishing has also been good at the Outer Wall and lower bay reef sites. Limit catches of fish to 10 pounds have been made.

I wish I could say the big rock were at the Indian River Inlet and on the beach, but alas, such is not the case. I keep saying it is just a matter of time before they arrive, and I am getting tired of hearing myself say that. Not much bait on the beach, but the shad are in the inlet and that should attract a bigger class of rockfish.

New fee
Anglers purchasing their general fishing license from a private vendor will pay an additional $1 for a total of $2.50 in agent fees. The tackle shops are encountering increased expense when issuing a license and asked for the higher fee to cover the cost. Those who purchase their license online or at DNREC headquarters in Dover will not see a fee increase. The new fee will go into effect Jan. 1, 2012. Hunters will see the same $1 increase in July.

100 years of fish and wildlife
On Monday, I was privileged to be invited by Dave Saveikis, director of fish and wildlife, to a celebration of 100 years of Delaware’s Division of Fish and Wildlife. The event was held at the Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge in Wilmington. This site is in the middle of the old shipyards on the Christiana River.

The beginning of what is now the Delaware Fish and Wildlife Division was in 1911, when Gov. Simeon S. Pennewill appointed the first Delaware Board of Game and Fish Commission and hired the first game warden. By 1915, a fishing license cost $3 and a resident hunting license was $1. Nonresident hunters had to pay $10. When you consider that in almost 100 years the fishing license has only gone up by $5.50, I think you can say that is a pretty good deal. The hunting license has increased to $25 and that is still very reasonable.

A few other notable events in the 100-year history of the Fish and Wildlife Division include Delaware joining the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission in 1942. This agency now regulates such fish as striped bass and menhaden.

In 1953, the Game and Fish Commission was given regulatory power over freshwater fish and resident game. In the same year public hearings began and the first trout were stocked in the Christina Watershed. The trout stamp was begun in 1955.

In 1954, the first Delaware deer hunting season opened with a total of 505 deer taken. There was a concern that killing that many deer would ruin the population. Delaware has harvested over 10,000 deer in recent years and it continues to liberalize the seasons.

In 1957, Norman G. Wilder became the first director of the Delaware Fish and Wildlife Agency. I knew Mr. Wilder very well, and he was the force behind the Ashland Nature Center and a true conservationist. When the state named the Norman G. Wilder Wildlife Area after him, he said it was quite an honor to have something named after you while you were still alive.

Gov. Russell W. Peterson was a true giant among conservationists, and the state of Delaware was blessed to have had him. Not only did he fight to pass the Coastal Zone Act, but in 1970 he also created the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. The old Game and Fish Commission was absorbed into the Division of Fish and Wildlife.

In his remarks on Monday, DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara said the land Gov. Peterson saved has now been listed by the U.S. Department of the Interior as one of 100 sites in the United States set aside as a national treasure. No doubt Gov. Peterson lost his chance at a second term because of the Coastal Zone Act and the opposition he received from big oil and chemical companies who wanted the land along the Delaware Bay for refineries and plants. Thankfully, he was a man of principle who cared more for doing the right thing than getting re-elected.

Other speakers included Gov. Jack Markell, former Gov. Mike Castle and U.S. Sen. Chris Coons. All spoke highly of the work done by the Fish and Wildlife Division over the past 100 years and pledged to do whatever they could to see the work continues to protect Delaware’s natural resources in the future.

  • Eric Burnley is a Delaware native who has fished and hunted the state from an early age.  Since 1978 he has written countless articles about hunting and fishing in Delaware and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast.  He has been the regional editor for Salt Water Sportsman, Field and Stream, Outdoor Life and the Fisherman Magazine.  He was the founding editor of the Mid-Atlantic Fisherman magazine.  Eric is the author of three books; Surf Fishing the Atlantic Coast, The Ultimate Guide to Striped Bass Fishing and Fishing Saltwater Baits.  He and his wife Barbara live near Milton, Delaware. Eric can be reached at