DELAWARE – The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) is making major changes to its surf fishing permit process.
Lift the ceiling
From 2023, the current cap of 17,000 DNREC permits will be lifted. It comes after demand for surf fishing licenses skyrocketed in previous years. In ten years, the number of permits issued has almost doubled. The DNREC says there were 14,792 active permits in 2012 and 29,041 in 2022, including off-peak permits.
“In 2021, we issued 17,000 permits, which sold out within months – about six months. Then it got even closer, and we got to where we were last year, where we sold [permits for] 2022 in just a few hours,” said Ray Bivens, Delaware State Parks Division Manager. “We had to make very drastic changes. We couldn’t just come back and say we were going to issue the same number of permits and do exactly the same. If that was the chaos we had last year, we wanted to make some major changes for 2023.”
During the 2022 permit season, Bivens says 79% of purchases were in-state and 21% out-of-state. He adds that the DNREC has received several questions about whether Delawares will receive preference once the permits go on sale.
“Residents of Delaware cannot get preference because we receive funding from the National Park Service which limits the fact that we have to have permits available for residents of other states, as well as Delaware. They limit the amount we can charge,” Bivens said.
The DNREC is also introducing an online booking system for surf fishing permits. Reservations will be required on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from the third week of May until the Labor Day weekend. For $4 a day, surfers can reserve access from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
However, reservations will not be available for off-peak surf beacon permit holders. Reservations can only be made for specific beach locations and can be made for any of the seven fishing spots.
“It creates a way that people would have equal access and not be completely excluded. Across the country, from our National Park Service to other state and county parks, and even to ourselves, we have used a reservation system to manage campground capacity,” Bivens said. .
Weekend bookings will be available weekly. Reservations will be on a first-come, first-served basis and will open the same week for the upcoming weekend, including holidays. Reservations will be accepted from the same day of the week throughout the peak surf fishing season. The day of the week will be announced by DNREC before the launch of the reservation system in May.
Reservations will continue to be taken until 4:00 p.m. the same day as space permits. One reservation will be permitted per surf tag permit holder per day, and reservations are non-refundable and non-transferable.
Even after a park has reached capacity, anglers with surf fishing reservations will be permitted to enter the park. Annual Surf Fishing Permit holders may access the beach without a reservation on weekends and holidays after 4 p.m., but must vacate the beach by 8 a.m. the following morning.
Anglers who previously purchased a two-year license for 2022-2023 will be subject to the new reservation system. A full Year 2 refund will be available to licensees upon request by March 31, 2023.
With the additional permits and the new reservation system will come additional enforcement measures, Bivens says. Reservations must be printed and displayed in the vehicle, and mobile verification can be used as a backup.
Permit holders will also be required to watch an instructional video on beach riding tips, mandatory gear and safety requirements. “For now, it’s a one-time thing. But, again, this is a pilot project that we will roll out over time,” Bivens said.
At the beaches, Bivens says visitors can expect to see additional DNREC officers on patrol to ensure regulations are followed. Until then, the DNREC says sales should start in December. For more information, Click here.