Changes to hunting, trapping and fishing regulations involve a lengthy process that ensures public input and may take up to two years to complete. These changes (also called “Rules”) are established by the Fish and Game Council through revisions to the Game Code and Fish Code. The DEP’s Fish and Wildlife encourages public involvement in this process.
These changes, or amendments to the Rules, supplement laws pertaining to hunting, trapping and fishing created by the New Jersey Legislature and found in NJ Statute Title 23. Such changes, recommended by the Council’s Game Committee or Fish Committee, may include adjustments to season dates, bag/creel limits, or the means by which game, furbearers and freshwater fish may be taken and possessed. (For information on any proposed Legislative law changes to Title 23, such as license types and fees, “Safety Zone” size, etc., visit the State Legislature homepage and enter “hunting” or “fishing” in the “Keyword” search box – most, if not all relevant bills will be found.)
The Committees present the amendments to the Council which votes on whether or not to move forward with each amendment. At this time the Council may modify the initial amendment proposed by the committee. A positive vote moves the amendment forward. Staff prepares a legal document describing the changes for publication in the NJ Register. This document is submitted to the NJ DEP Office of Legal Affairs, for review and assistance in drafting the necessary legal language. The proposal document is then reviewed by a Deputy Attorney General and more edits may result.
Once the legal review is completed the proposal document is submitted to the Governor’s Office for review. Once these reviews have taken place, the proposed amendments are published in the NJ Register which is published twice a month.
Upon publication, a 60-day comment period starts. A public meeting is held but cannot be scheduled prior to 15 days after the proposals are published. Once published, the public can view the document on the DEP Notice of Rule Proposals page which has instructions for submitting comments. To be notified of this the public can subscribe to the Freshwater Fishing and/or Hunting e-mail lists.
All written and oral comments are compiled, logged and responded to by Fish and Wildlife staff which then forwards this comment document to the Fish and Game Council for review. After considering the public comment, the Council holds a final vote on each of the proposed amendments. The Council may reject the original proposal, modify the original proposal based upon public comment and approve this modification, or adopt the amendment as originally proposed.
Modifications to the original proposal are often compromises between the old rule and the new; the Council cannot introduce and vote on a totally new idea which was not published or commented upon. For example, in 2007, the Fish and Game Council originally proposed that a Bonus Buck Permit be required for all Deer Permit Seasons and the Six-day Firearm Season. After receiving a great deal of negative public comment regarding this change to the Six-day Firearm Season, that part of the proposal was dropped. The Fish and Game Council decided to require the purchase of the Buck Permit for only the Permit Deer Seasons.
Once these final amendments are adopted at a Fish and Game Council meeting, staff prepare the final legal document which includes a discussion of the comments received. This document is then edited and reviewed up through the Governor’s office and published in the NJ Register. These final changes become law five days after publication.
New Jersey’s fishing and hunting rules and regulations are summarized in the corresponding issues of the Fish and Wildlife Digest. The Fishing Issue is published in January; the Hunting & Trapping Issue is published in August.
The public is also welcome to address the Fish and Game Council at any of its monthly meetings. During the public portion of the meeting members of the public are welcome to address any fish or wildlife issue, propose changes and ask questions. See the Fish and Game Council Meetings Schedule for meeting dates and agendas.
Those interested in changes to the trout stocking program can attend and speak at the annual Trout Stocking Meeting in February. General freshwater fisheries programs are discussed at the two annual Fisheries Forums where the public is encouraged to ask questions and state their opinions directly to staff involved with the programs.
Interested and concerned members of the public can also become involved with local sportsmen’s group, including their county affiliate of the New Jersey State Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs which recommends appointees to the Fish and Game Council. Involvement with an organization amplifies the voices of individuals.