This is part of a periodic series about the New Jersey shore's efforts to rebuild and return to normalcy in the second summer after Superstorm Sandy ravaged many coastal communities.
Not everyone is happy that a massive project is underway to restore the Jersey shore's beaches after Superstorm Sandy.
With the second summer after the storm approaching, fishing groups say the project is wrecking prime fishing spots by smothering parts of rock jetties with sand, destroying a unique angling opportunity that draws thousands of people to the state's shoreline each year.
And they're particularly perturbed by plans to cut off access to rock jetties sticking out into the surf. That work, called notching, is designed to ensure the uniform flow of sand along newly replenished beaches and cut down on erosion, but the anglers say the jetties are irreplaceable spots to catch fish, particularly in communities that limit public beach access.
They want the federal government to find a way to widen the beaches without covering and notching the jetties.
"These jetties, once they're gone, they're gone forever," said Greg Hueth of the Shark River Surf Anglers, one of many groups agitating against the beach project. "What they're doing is filling in all these areas with sand and destroying some of the best fishing areas. Every fish spawns in that area — flounder, lobsters, bluefish, everything. They're going to fill it all in and smother it to death."
Dan Russo, who fishes in the Asbury Park area, said the nooks and crannies of the rock jetties provide habitat akin to coral reefs for many species of fish. Chris Hueth, another fisherman, says there's a spot in Allenhurst, near Asbury Park, where a jetty was buried in sand by the repair project, wiping out what was a productive breeding ground and fishing spot.
"There's nothing there now," he said. "It's all gone."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the midst of a massive project to restore New Jersey's coastline to a condition better than it was before Sandy hit in October 2012. From Maryland to New Hampshire, the storm was blamed for 159 deaths, and New Jersey and New York alone claimed a total of nearly $79 billion in damage.
The project's stated purpose is to protect lives and property, but it also has the effect of maintaining one of New Jersey's most popular tourism attractions: its 127 miles of beaches. Christopher Gardner, a spokesman for the Army Corps, said the agency has heard fishermen's concerns and will look for potential changes to the project to address those while still ensuring the project works as designed. He also said the impact on fishing areas will be temporary.
"While some habitats and the species in them will be temporarily impacted by the construction of the project, most of the marine life will re-colonize nearby after construction activities are completed and marine populations impacted will return to normal levels over time," Gardner said.
The project involves pumping huge quantities of sand from offshore onto the beaches, which are being widened to 150 to 200 feet.
The notching of the jetties involves removing rocks from where the jetty meets the edge of the beach, creating a flow of water between the beach and the jetty. It's intended to help sand flow along the newly replenished beaches and keep them relatively uniform.
That's something that has long been accepted by coastal scientists as a benefit to the coastal ecosystem, said Tim Dillingham, director of the American Littoral Society. By lessening erosion, notching the jetties should extend the life of the new beaches, making them need to be replenished less frequently. But in this case, there's a unique concern: the tendency of several communities along the Jersey shore to limit public access to the beaches through a variety of tactics, including private ownership of part of the beach and severe restrictions on parking nearby.
"Because this is such a unique place, maybe it's in the best interests to keep the jetties as they are and maybe do the beach maintenance on a more regular basis," Dillingham said.
Joe Pallotto, president of the Asbury Park Fishing Club, said the anglers would accept a compromise in which the beach work could proceed if fishermen retained access to the jetties.
"This is something we've been able to do for decades, and now they're just coming in and taking it away," he said.