A program that combats the lure of drugs with the great outdoors would go statewide if a shore-based bill becomes law.

The Future Fisherman Foundation's "Hooked On Fishing, Not On Drugs" program flourishes in Ocean County and in more than 30 states, says state Senator Chris Connors (R-9). The measure he sponsors with Assembly colleagues Brian Rumpf and DiAnne Gove (R-9) would fund it through the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. It won approval in the Assembly Appropriations Committee today. and awaits consideration in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee..

Under the bill, a $200,000 start-up allotment would be drawn from the Drug Enforcement and Demand Reduction Fund. The account is a repository for fines and penalties paid by convicted drug offenders and also support state-authorized drug and alcohol abuse treatment programs. The measure won approval in the Senate Environment and Energy Committee in early February.

"As the state looks for more effectivee approaches to deter drug use among our youth," said the delegation in a statement, "the Hooked On Fishing - Not On Drugs Program provides an instructional setting offering children an alternative from a life of constant run-ins with the law by teaching them about recreational activities, such as fishing, that can be enjoyed for a lifetime."

The concept was launched in Ocean County as a pilot project in 2000 and has enjoyed popularity ever since. It has bipartisan legislative support and carries recommendations by the New Jersey Recreation and Parks Association, Jersey Coast Anglers Association, New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, New Jersey State Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs and United Bowhunters of New Jersey - all valuable source points for instructors and mentors.