By Ted Venker
Coastal Conservation Association
A half-dozen years ago, I went fishing in Florida with a family friend who had moved to the Naples area. He reminded me the day before the trip to get a fishing license, warning that we could count on being stopped by Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officers at least twice during our outing.
I was slightly stunned. I had been stopped quite a few times over the years in Texas and asked to produce a license. I’d had game wardens go through my ice chest to count and measure fish. All the paperwork was in order and the fish always measured up, so it wasn’t a bad experience. On the contrary, game wardens are interesting folks to talk to. They always have great stories.
However, those visits weren’t anything as reliable or predictable as my friend was describing in Florida. I asked him what made him think we’d get stopped more than once during a one-day trip.
“We have a lot to protect here,” he said simply.
We got stopped three times the next day. By a different officer each time.
It is easy to see why Florida is regarded as the sportfishing capital of the world. When the nets came out of the water in 1994, the State of Florida made a commitment to creating a world-class recreational fishing destination. Total revenue for all marine recreational fishing license sales was more than $29 million in 2008, and it translates into a bulldog enforcement effort, complete with high-tech poaching stings and penalties that should scare an illegal netter out of state.
The results of that commitment are easy to see – Florida is a remarkable place to fish, and it is immensely gratifying to know that it is being carefully conserved and protected by the investment made by anglers with their license purchases. The same commitment has been made in places like Louisiana and Texas, and folks there can tell plenty of before-and-after stories about the difference it has made in their fisheries.
In these economic times, though, all states are cutting budgets, and fish and wildlife enforcement agencies are prime targets. Unfortunately, two recent examples of lawlessness and greed in our bays and oceans should serve as a warning that anglers should remain vigilant and committed to being the watchdogs for our marine resources.
In Maryland, an apparent army of outlaw commercial gill netters couldn’t wait for the season to begin to slaughter tons of striped bass, using nets that are not legal in any season. In North Carolina, recreational anglers recorded images of dead, wasted stripers turned out of commercial nets. Trawlers in North Carolina were allowed to keep 50 striped bass, ostensibly as “bycatch.” However, with rockfish getting $3 a pound, the bycatch fishery became a directed fishery, and trawlers dragged nets through any school of bass they could find. The biggest 50 fish stayed in the boat, the rest went over the side dead.
Recreational anglers in both states are frustrated beyond words. They have put their money into licenses and rightfully expect to have better enforcement, to see better laws and attitudes, and to have their states take better care of the resources and better care of their recreational angling communities. It was exactly the same in Louisiana, Texas and Florida when they acted to outlaw gill nets, fund better enforcement, and establish game fish status for important recreational species. North Carolina anglers invested about $5.5 million in recreational saltwater licenses in 2010 while Maryland generated $4.3 million from saltwater license sales in 2009. They deserve better, and they are pounding on doors at the capital to get it.
You have to wonder, then, exactly what message is being delivered in New Jersey, which recently chose to adopt a “free” recreational saltwater license. Or in New York, where there is an effort underway to repeal the saltwater license. Proponents of the “free” license in New Jersey claimed a victory against what they saw as an unfair tax. Some advocates even claim the “free” license will enhance tourism by luring in anglers with the promise of “free” fishing.
A local fishing group led the effort to implement a “free” license and is on record stating that federal funds should be used to foster and protect New Jersey fisheries. It is an interesting premise to rely on the federal government to fund the state’s marine resource management when local fishermen decide they don’t want to. It is also curious to rely on dollars from the federal government when not many recreational anglers are currently happy with how the federal government manages fisheries in federal waters.
What kind of management can proponents expect with a “free” license? Will the New Jersey Division of Fish and Game be able to fund a marine habitat program? Will it be able to build and maintain boat ramps? Will it be able to do research and data collection? Will it be able to find and stop poaching and other abuses? Will it deliver quality fisheries that lure in tourists? Will anglers there have any leverage to expect any of those things in the future? Is the effort to create “free” fishing in the Northeast likely to turn its sights on saltwater licenses in places where they have produced huge, positive results? Places like Texas, Florida or Louisiana?
Time will tell, but it certainly doesn’t seem like a very promising turn of events for recreational anglers or the marine resources of New Jersey. On the other hand, you could almost certainly fish there and not have to worry so much about getting stopped by a game warden. Maybe the trawlers, netters and poachers who have worn out their welcome in Maryland and North Carolina will find New Jersey a more hospitable place to do business as well.
Tags: fishing license, free fishing, recreational saltwater fishing license
Posted in CCA Blogs | 14 Comments »
Saltwater licenses begin to hit anglers
By Chris Gatley
September 21, 2009
Is this what a picture from a New York waterway is going to look like once the Recreational Marine Fishing License is mandated in two weeks? If the nominal fee of $10 rapidly increases like the State of California’s marine license, who knows for certain?
Last Wednesday, I opened my mail to a letter requiring already licensed party and charter boat operators for the State of New York to purchase an additional license they call the Recreational Marine Fishing License. It costs $400.
Commonly thought of as a saltwater Fishing license by the angling public, my research tells me that major confusion lies on the horizon as this is clearly a vehicle by some northeast states to create extra revenues through existing saltwater fisherman.
To clear up any confusion on this topic, I called my good friend, Jim Hutchinson, Managing Director for the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA).
Hutchinson and the RFA are well-known for pulling up their sleeves and battling for the rights of the angling public. He informed me that The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration has required all states to keep a registry of saltwater anglers.
This registry is simply a phone book of saltwater anglers listing their name, contact information and states fished. The purpose of this registry is to obtain detailed data on fisheries information, to better track populations, migrations and other pertinent data through current saltwater anglers.
Currently, Delaware, Virginia, Connecticut and New York comply with the federal mandate. Or do they?
“This is a complicated matter as some states are using this registry as a means to push an actual license onto the books,” Hutchinson said. “The RFA has pending legislation in the works in states like New Jersey to create and adopt a program they call ‘FIN,’ or Fisherman Identification Number.
FIN closely resembles the Harvest Information Program (HIP) currently used by duck hunters. This serves as a reference guide on registry entrant costs. Currently, the cost for HIP is $2 per entrant.
“FIN will cost each entrant roughly $2, just like the existing HIP platform,” Hutchinson said. “Some states here in the northeast, such as Connecticut and New York, are using this registry requirement to pass a saltwater license; ultimately raising additional revenues to be used by that independent state how they see fit.”
The additional fees have hit at an inopportune time for some.
“We all knew this was coming” said Capt. Frank Masseria of Vitamin Sea Charters in Tottenville, N.Y.
“But to inform charter captains that in two weeks we must purchase a $400 license is absurd, especially since the season here in New York is over sooner than it starts.
“For instance, the state is closing our tautog season in mid-December, the heart of our season and they want $400 now.”
The State of New York requires this recreational marine fishing license starting Oct. 1. This license must be renewed on Jan. 1, 2010. In New York, recreational anglers are required to pay a nominal fee at $10 for all New York residents while charter captains must pay $400 annually.
Like Capt. Masseria, I am a charter captain and I personally thought of this registry as a license. Plus, most saltwater anglers I talk with think of this registry as a saltwater fishing license. To the angling public, these two words — registry and license — are synonymous, not really a big deal.
However, Hutchinson informs me that they are two separate issues. NOAA has asked for a registry, a phone book of names that the RFA says can be handled for $2 per entrant. It appears that individual states here in the northeast are taking this opportunity to add extra monies on top of that registry and passing this license onto all saltwater anglers.
States that are currently without any form of registration include Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey. Connecticut, Delaware, Virgina and New York currently have a requirement in place. Beginning Oct. 1, all anglers who wish to fish New York saltwater waterways must possess a Recreational Marine Fishing License.
CCA New York Response on Saltwater Licenses
by Charles A. Witek
CCA New York
We read the article “Saltwater licenses begin to hit anglers” on ESPN Outdoors.com with some interest. Unfortunately, some of the information contained in it was somewhat misleading.
Federal law requires all anglers who fish in federal waters (more than 3 miles offshore) or who catch anadromous fish (those that live in salt water but spawn in freshwater rivers) after January 1, 2010 to be “registered.” A state fishing license which meets federal requirements will meet the registration requirement, while anglers who fish in states that do not offer a qualifying license will have to obtain a federal registration. In 2010, such federal registration will be free, but beginning in 2011, the federal government will be permitted to charge a fee that most believe will be somewhere between $15 and $30.
As was noted in the article, there is a difference between “registration” and a state licensing program. “Registration” only requires that certain information be collected by the state or federal government, and only of anglers participating in certain fisheries. State licensing is a more comprehensive program that limits the privilege of fishing in marine waters to license holders. To that extent, Coastal Conservation Association agrees with what the article says. However, beyond that point, the article leaves many things unsaid.
Specifically addressing the New York issue, it is true that charter and party boats will be required to purchase a $400 license. However, representatives of New York’s for-hire industry, including the Recreational Fishing Alliance, supported such vessel license in lieu of a requirement that all anglers on board hold individual licenses (in the interests of candor, please note that CCA’s New York chapter also supported the vessel license.) It was a calculated business decision, arising out of a calculation that the $400 boat license would, in the end, be a lesser cost than the combination of lost business and administrative overhead arising out of an individual licensing requirement. Thus, no for-hire vessel should complain if the state imposed a requirement that the industry asked for.
Taking a broader view, the argument that a free state registration is a viable alternative to a license and related fee is stretching reality a bit. Certainly, bills to that effect might be introduced in state legislators, either by legislators who wish to appease their constituents or those with a philosophical objection to government control of natural resources, but it is highly doubtful that even the authors of such bills expect them to be signed into law.
In today’s economic environment, when state budget deficits run into the billions of dollars, it is difficult to imagine any responsible governor who would agree to either further burden the budget with an additional budget program or take scarce resources away from state fisheries managers in order to fund a registration program that anglers are unwilling to fund for themselves.
While the article cites the “free” Hunter Information Program as a model for angler registration, it omits the facts that duck hunters are required to pay not only for a state hunting license, but for a federal Migratory Bird Stamp (which was initiated at the insistence of sportsmen), thus providing more than adequate funding which allows such “free” programs to be offered.
In fact, with the exception of salt water anglers along the northeast coast, sportsmen have long been willing to fund some of the expenses of managing the resources essential to their sport. It must be difficult for a fresh water angler to comprehend the arguments against a salt water license which, in the last analysis, allows an angler to fish all season for the price of a case of cheap beer or perhaps, for the teetotaler, three gallons of marine gas.
To suggest that New York’s $10 license fee will materially reduce the number of New York anglers is to suggest that anglers place a very low value on their sport. That’s certainly not true of CCA’s New York members, and we don’t believe that it’s true of anglers anywhere. However, if it is, and anglers are willing to abandon their sport over a mere $10 bill, then angling is facing a much bigger problem than a mere license fee.
Tags: federal registry, fishing license, new york fishing license, recreational data, saltwater license
Posted in CCA Atlantic States | No Comments »