Blades officials tangled up over fishing in marina

By Lynn R. Parks

The state made a mistake when it OK'd rules proposed for the Blades Marina. Those rules contained a ban on fishing in the Nanticoke River marina and approving that, said Laura Herr, manager of the state's wetlands and subaqueous lands program, was wrong. "That was an oversight on our department's part," Herr told the Blades Town Council during a public workshop focusing on the fishing ban. "We should not have approved the rules with that one in there." But Carlisle Windley, president of the private non-profit Blades Economic Development Corporation (BEDCO), which is responsible for operation of the marina, told the council that fishing should not be allowed in the marina's waters. Anglers casting lines can damage boats anchored in the marina, he said. In addition, having small fishing boats in the marina basin is not safe. "I think your safety concerns are overblown," countered Brian Barnes, tournament director for the Delaware Bass Federation, a fisherman's group. "I fish in the Sassafras River marina all the time, where there are a ton more boats in half the space, and there are no safety issues there." The state-owned marina opened in 1999. Its construction was funded by $5 million in state funds. It is leased from the state by the town of Blades, which in turn leases it to the non-profit BEDCO. The Blades council called the public workshop after tabling a vote at the last council meeting on a proposed town ordinance that includes a ban on fishing in the marina. The ordinance is the town's first regarding the marina - up until now, activities have been governed by BEDCO's rules. BEDCO banned fishing in the basin from the marina's opening until January 2005, when it was told by the state that it could no longer do so. That state decision came after a complaint by the Delaware Bass Federation that its members were chased from the marina during a September fishing tournament.

"You have created an excellent area for fishing," Barnes said at the workshop. Bass in particular love the type of environment that is created by a lagoon marina like that in Blades, where there is still water and, with its pilings, lots of fish hiding places. In a letter to BEDCO dated, Jan. 5, 2005, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control secretary John Hughes said that no state law can be used to prohibit fishing in the marina basin, which is state waters. The letter also proposed seven rules for the marina, including: banning fishing from dusk to dawn, anchoring in the marina basin and the use of weights in casting; requiring anglers to give way to marina vessels; and making fishermen responsible for retrieving hooks that are stuck in wooden docks and in tie lines. The letter recommended that BEDCO approach the town of Blades about incorporating the rules into town ordinances. The marina is located on the tidal waters of the Nanticoke. Historically, tidal waters have been open to the public and regulating their use has been a state responsibility, Herr said. "For a local jurisdiction to propose out and out prohibition of fishing is a unique situation," she said. "What if Milford decided to ban fishing all along the Mispillion? What if private land owners decided to ban fishing in tidal waters in front of their property?" Windley said that in banning fishing, BEDCO was simply following the state's example: A Delaware law bans fishing from piers, docks, bulkheads and vessels in state park marinas. But Herr said that, in light of the Blades case, the state is reviewing that law. "We are looking at our rules and regulations, to make sure they are consistent," she said. In particular, "we are looking at the fishing prohibition in the Indian River marina." "The bottom line is that boating and fishing should be able to coexist peacefully," Herr added. "We are looking for middle ground here, with boating and fishing both in the marina and both following common-sense rules." Town administrator Julie Chelton said Tuesday that the ordinance will be on the agenda at the town council's Feb. 13 meeting. The ordinance has already been read by the council three times, so it could be passed at that meeting.

For your information: The Feb. 13 meeting of the Blades Town Council will be held in Hardin Hall, next to the Blades Town Hall on Fourth Street, starting at 7 p.m. For details, call town hall, 629-7366.

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