By John Burton
A bill, championed by a Monmouth County state senator that encourages kids to participate in outdoor activities in an attempt to steer them away from destructive behavior, is now law.
Gov. Chris Christie has signed into law S-178, Hooked on Fishing – Not on Drugs, legislation that in part puts in place a funding mechanism to support an outdoor educational program aimed at the state’s youth.
The Senate bill, identical to the Assembly bill A-638, was sponsored by state Sen. Christopher Connors, a Republican whose 9th District is located in Ocean County, and Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-11th, who represents part of Monmouth County, as its prime co-sponsor.
In a released statement following his signature last month, Christie said the program “will help steer young men and women away from the pitfalls of drug abuse and by utilizing our great outdoors to create educational, recreational and mentoring opportunities.”
Beck said, “One of the things we know about keeping kids away from drugs and alcohol is when their time is occupied with something positive they’re less likely to get involved in drugs.”
The legislation will allocate $200,000 from the state’s Drug Enforcement and Demand Reduction Fund, which levies fines against those who are convicted of drug offenses, to fund the programs around the state, according to the governor’s office.
This type of program is currently operating in more than 30 states around the country. It was first instituted in Arkansas and is the flagship educational program for the Future Fisherman Foundation, a national organization supporting fishing and outdoor activities as educational tools, according to information provided by Beck’s office.
The pilot program in New Jersey was initiated in Ocean County, where it would seem to be a natural fit, and has been very successful, spurring interest in it elsewhere around the state, Beck said.
The state Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife will support and administer the program and its funding to those entities wishing to set up the program, said spokesman Bob Considine. Division representatives will work with educational and community-based organizations to train members on implementing the program and educating the participants.
“It’s not just throwing fishing poles,” said Anthony Mauro, chairman of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, a political action committee supporting hunting, fishing and outdoor conservation.
The program, Mauro said, will have kids undertake between 18 and 22 hours of instruction on habitat, conservation, biology “and ultimately learn how to fish. Exposure to the outdoors and an understanding to the outdoors ultimately ensures for future generations that we have a healthy outdoors,” he said.
“What we see with it is it’s more successful than even D.A.R.E. in preventing drug use in kids,” Mauro said, referencing the Drug Abuse Resistance Education, a nationwide program found in schools.
“For the past five years we have pushed extremely aggressively to get this bill past,” and are gratified it is now law, Mauro said.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of background you come from, this is a sport that really anyone can do,” Beck said. Any community can participate.
Mauro agreed. His organization has about 300 volunteers who will work with the DEP and communities on these programs, and plan to work on instituting them in some urban areas first.