State needs to consider changes at drive-on beaches

July 12, 2014

As we reported last week, state Sen. Dave McBride has introduced a bill that would allow anyone with a surf-fishing permit to drive on the beach between Memorial Day and Labor Day without the restriction of being actively fishing. As I expected, there have been many comments in various social media about this proposal, but the ones that that appeared in The News Journal had the chilling effect of a bucket of ice water. Two letters to the editor asked why anyone should be allowed to drive on the beach and destroy the fragile environment. I fear this train of thought is held by the vast majority of people who do not fish or even visit the beach. Since most people in the state of Delaware fall into this category, those of us who do fish and drive on the beach need to be very careful in how we approach the discussion of this proposal.

If we take the position that only fishermen should be allowed to drive on the beach, we will lose. As I said last week, why should only one small portion of the population be allowed this privilege? I believe we must support allowing anyone willing to pay the fee for a beach-access permit to drive on the beach during the summer season.

If this bill were to become law, it would present many problems for the state parks system. First they will have to produce a video on how to drive on the beach and make everyone watch this video before being issued a permit. I understand this is done at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and it should be done in Delaware. I would hope the Delaware Mobile Surf-Fishermen would be willing to assist with the production of this video.

The state parks will also have to provide lifeguards along the drive-on beaches to protect swimmers. It would be irresponsible to allow all those people to have access without providing for their safety.

I am sure this will cause much howling from some people, but no one should be allowed to bring alcohol on the beach. Driving and drinking don’t mix, and most people who disregard the rules and thereby make all of us look bad to the non-fishing public have been drinking.

The park rangers will have to be a greater presence on the beach. Nothing keeps people’s behavior in check like the sight of an enforcement officer nearby.

All of these requirements will cost the Division of State Parks more money. The sale of surf-fishing permits already brings in more than $1 million, with that money currently going to the General Fund, where it may or may not go back to the Parks Division. Sen. McBride should also submit a bill to make surf-fishing permit money a dedicated fund, so it can be used to offset the cost of the open access bill.

A problem that already exists is overcrowding along the beach. Weekends are the time when most people come to the beach, and finding an open space along the water after 10 a.m. on a Saturday is all but impossible. The Parks Division, with help from the public, must come up with a suitable number of vehicles allowed on the beach at one time. Once this number is reached, no other vehicle will be allowed on until someone comes off. Once again, money will be needed to devise the plan and supply enforcement officers to monitor the number of vehicles on the beach.

The current situation along the beach on the summer weekends is not good. The vast majority of folks who drive on do so to enjoy the water and beach, and only have a token fishing line in the surf.  Not requiring these people to be actively fishing will not make much difference so long as the state parks have sufficient funds to control the situation.

New state record dolphin

Well-known local personality and auctioneer Butch Emmert has captured a new state record 56.9-pound dolphin. Butch is an all-around outdoorsman, fishing in the summer and hunting in the winter.

On this trip, he was fishing aboard the Elizabeth Jane with Capt. Jason King in 60 fathoms at the tip of the Baltimore Canyon. I believe Butch can say, without reservation, that this dolphin is by far the finest fish of its type ever seen in Delaware.

Fishing report

Not much change after the storm. Lots of flounder in the Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean. These fish have moved to structure at all the reef sites.

Big croaker in the Broadkill with the occasional flounder and trout taken on bloodworms and minnows. Offshore was very good before the storm and seems to be even better for those who ventured out in less-than-desirable conditions last week.

  • 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

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