Fishermen navigate new licensing regulations

Ned Casey prepares to release a smooth dogfish caught while fishing for black sea bass off Oak Bluffs Saturday. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

This fishing season, with some exceptions, anyone who wets a line must hold a Massachusetts saltwater fishing permit. Island tackle shop owners have been fielding a lot of questions from visiting fishermen about the new requirement.

The law is relatively straightforward. Unless a fisherman is under 16, disabled, or fishing on a charter or head boat, he or she must hold a permit. The permit is free for fishermen 60 and over but a permit is required. Out-of-state fishermen do not need a Mass. license, if there is a reciprocity agreement between states. Agreements are currently in place with Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.

The license costs $10. It may be purchased over the phone Mon-Sun, 5am to 5pm (1-866-703-1925), online ( and by mail. Phone and internet orders provide instant registration for fishermen who want to hit the water immediately.

It is possible for a tackle shop to become a license outlet, but no Island shops have taken the bait.

Steve Morris at Dick’s in Oak Bluffs said he would be willing to become an outlet, but the process is cumbersome. He would need a second credit card machine and would have to be bonded.

Steve said he receives questions about the new license “on a daily basis.” He said providing answers has become easier since Greg Skomal, DMF biologist, dropped off booklets and cards that provide contact information and explain the new requirements.

“Most people are not pissed off about having to buy it,” Steve said. “They’re just pissed off because it’s a big pain in the neck.”

Cooper “Coop” Gilkes at Coop’s in Edgartown said the questions have been nonstop. “But I’ve got all the answers now,” Coop said, relieved to have the booklets Greg dropped off in his shop.

“It takes the pressure off of us,” Coop said.

Coop said the phone system is simple and works well for people who can’t or don’t want to deal with a computer.

Steve Purcell at Larry’s in Edgartown was also relieved to have the new booklets and information cards. Steve has tried to be accommodating, even using his own computer to register six guys who were standing in his shop ready to go, but he said it was very time-consuming. The phone system provides an instant registration number.

Steve said he had a visitor from Canada who could not get through the computer process and took advantage of the phone registration. “He had it in three minutes,” Steve said.

I have heard some grumbling in the past about the permit requirements. The fact is that Mass. had a choice: implement a permit or defer to the feds and see permit fees leave the state.

In December 2008, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service (NOAA) announced plans for a national registry of saltwater anglers. NOAA said that better national surveys of the more than 15 million saltwater anglers will provide important economic and fisheries data.

The Mass. law created a separate account for all license fees, known as the “Marine Recreational Fisheries Development Fund.” The fund must be used to support science and conservation programs designed to improve recreational saltwater fishing. Not less than one-third of the permit fees appropriated for spending in a fiscal year must be “expended on existing or new facilities and other activities that improve public access to recreational saltwater fishing.”

All in all, it’s a good law that will benefit fishermen. Complaining or not complying will achieve nothing.

Environmental Police Sergeant Matt Bass is responsible for enforcing the new permit. Matt is an officer who has a reputation for being reasonable and fair. He told me he understands that as with any new program there is an element of education. For now, permit enforcement will take a back seat to recreational and commercial fisheries enforcement and boating safety.

For some reason I cannot fathom, the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) tacks on a “convenience fee” when you buy the license online or by telephone. Huh?

You and I have to pay extra for the state to make the process convenient? Shouldn’t that be the goal?

Reggie Zimmerman, a DMF spokesman, explained in response to my emailed questions that the state contracted the system out to a private vendor, who keeps the convenience fee revenue.

“DMF does not charge a fee for processing the permits when people come into the office or send an application through the mail,” Reggie wrote. “This is because the agency is not in the business to make money but to provide customer service.”

It also provides an option for those over 60 who want to get a free permit without paying a few dollars over the Internet, he said.

Maybe I am hung up on the idea that someone decided to call a processing surcharge a “convenience fee.”

Dogfish invade

There are smooth dogfish and there are spiny dogfish. According to “The Shark Almanac” by Thomas B. Allen (The Lyons Press, 1999), the Family Squalidae, or dogfish shark is made up of about 80 species.

Coop tells me that spiny dogfish arrived in force off Lobsterville Beach. Fishermen should use caution removing hooks. And it is never a good idea to kick a spiny back into the water.

The spiny dogfish comes with two very sharp dorsal spines. And the spiny is adept at bending and flipping in order to poke an offending fisherman. “The spine, which is slightly poisonous, can inflict a painful injury, as many fishermen can attest,” writes Mr. Allen.

The spiny is easily confused with the smooth dogfish, which is a member of the family of sharks called Triakidae and does not have spines. Smooth dogfish are often caught by bottom-fishermen and are not risky to handle.

Dick’s tournament results

Dick’s in Oak Bluffs held its annual Memorial Day weekend tournament. Owner Steve Morris said there was a pretty good turnout and while there were not a lot of fish, there were “some decent fish.”

Boat bass: Bill Aibel, 36.9-pounds; George Rogers, 29 lbs; Mark Campos, 22.2 lbs. Boat blue: Sylvia Wheeler, 8 lbs; Kyle Lichwell, 7.4 lbs; David Lichwell, 7.2 lbs. Shore bass: Lee Bruni, 21.9 lbs; Peter Shepardson, 14.2 lbs; Pat Toomey, 14.2 lbs. Shore blue: Tim France, 11.5 lbs; Ken Anderson, 9.6 lbs; Jim Cornwell Jr., 9.6 lbs.

(The results were corrected to reflect that the third place shore bluefish winner was Jim Cornwell Jr., not Jim Cornwell.)

NOAA news on sharks, tuna

In a decision watched closely by tuna fishermen, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) announced last week that an endangered species listing for Atlantic bluefin tuna is not warranted now, but that the agency “remains concerned and will revisit the decision with new science.

“NOAA has committed to revisit this decision by early 2013, when more information will be available about the effects of the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill, as well as a new stock assessment from the scientific arm of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the international body charged with the fish’s management and conservation,” according to a press release.

NOAA formally designated both the western Atlantic and eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean stocks of bluefin tuna as “species of concern” under the Endangered Species Act. This places the species on a watch list for concerns about its status and threats to the species.

NOAA said that based on the best available information and “assuming countries comply with the bluefin tuna fishing quotas” established by ICCAT, both the western and eastern Atlantic stocks are not likely to become extinct. That is a big assumption.

To read the status review report on Atlantic bluefin tuna, the federal register notice and other information on bluefin tuna go to:

In other pelagic news, NOAA Fisheries Service launched a voluntary program to encourage commercial and recreational fishermen to safely release Atlantic shortfin mako sharks alive and report the releases to NOAA for posting on an online map.

The new program is designed to conserve shortfin mako sharks. Scientific research shows many of these sharks are being caught and kept, damaging the long-term sustainability of the population, according to a NOAA press release. The most recent assessment found that the population had declined about 50 percent from the 1950s.

Commercial and recreational fishermen can submit an online form to NOAA with information about where and when they release shortfin mako sharks, and their information will be posted on an online map.

Shortfin mako sharks, like other shark species, grow slowly, mature late, and produce few young, making them vulnerable to fishing. The average female shortfin mako shark becomes sexually mature at 18, while males are mature at 8. This highly migratory species is managed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, of which the U.S. is a member. The U.S. has been a leader in urging the international commission to adopt conservation measures to help rebuild the species.

Shortfin makos are often caught unintentionally by commercial fishermen who are targeting swordfish and tuna with long-line gear. They are also caught by recreational fishermen and are a popular catch in shark tournaments.

It is legal for commercial and recreational fishermen to retain the sharks. However, recreationally caught sharks must not be smaller than 54 inches from the tip of the shark’s nose to the fork of its tail.

For more information about the program, to view the interactive map, and learn how to submit information on a live shark release, go to