Surf-fishing tag process needs revision

February 11, 2022

On Feb. 1, the state reached its limit of 17,000 permits, issued in record time. Those who were lucky enough to acquire an unrestricted tag successfully navigated a website fraught with problems or stood in line on a Tuesday morning at a state park. Many longtime, local residents were unable to get a tag before they sold out in less than four hours. The unlucky many must now settle for a restricted, off-peak pass, which allows fishermen to drive on beaches during the week or in the off-season.

According to DNREC, the reason for the cap is, "It's the most equitable way to serve all beach users, and to manage a limited resource, while also protecting against overcrowding of parks beaches." We disagree.

It's no big secret that most surf-fishing tags are used solely for drive-on access to the beach by those with no intent of actively fishing. Many, if not most, people who purchase permits use them on summer weekends solely to facilitate a tailgate-style gathering on the beach. As long as they do the bare minimum to appear to be fishing, they’ll avoid an unwelcome visit from a park ranger.

The result, at least at Cape Henlopen State Park, is a full beach that forces park staff to close the gates until the masses have left.

But if the park already has a mechanism to control the drive-on beaches, why is the state limiting surf-fishing permits?

The state is leaving revenue on the table while alienating locals, many of whom were unable to take off work on a weekday to join the rush for a permit.

By eliminating the 17,000-tag limit, the state stops the mad scramble it created when permits were capped in 2019. People would no longer have to get up early on a weekday to stand in line or sit in front of computer frantically smashing the browser’s refresh button.

Overcrowding of the beaches is a real concern, but it appears to be limited to Cape Henlopen State Park. A digital sign placed on Route 1 or Freeman Highway stating the park’s status could divert many people to nearby, less-crowded beaches such as Beach Plum Island in Broadkill Beach or Delaware Seashore State Park.

It’s time the state reevaluates its approach to issuance of surf-fishing tags to provide everyone an equal opportunity to obtain a permit, then, when needed, restrict access to certain beaches when overcrowding becomes an issue.


  • Editorials are considered and written by Cape Gazette Editorial Board members, including Publisher Chris Rausch, Editor Jen Ellingsworth, News Editor Nick Roth and reporters Ron MacArthur and Chris Flood. 

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