Derby disqualifies fish weighed in without saltwater permit

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File photo by Nelson Sigelman

The Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby committee disqualified two potential division-winning fish on Monday after it determined that in each case the fisherman did not hold a valid Massachusetts saltwater fishing permit.

In a statement emailed to The Times, Derby president Ed Jerome referenced a Massachusetts law that went into effect on January 1, 2011, that with a few exceptions requires all fishermen to hold a saltwater fishing permit.

Mr. Jerome said the fishermen, whom he did not identify, did not have a permit prior to weighing in the fish, a shore all tackle division bonito and a fly rod division shore bluefish.

In recent years, shore bonito have been very scarce and it was the only fish in that category weighed in to date. Had it held up, the angler would have been one of four people with a chance to win a new 22-foot Eastern boat.

“Although this is the first year of implementation of the new state fishing regulation, the committee cautions all participants to comply with all state, federal, and Derby regulations if they participate in the Derby and anticipate winning a prize,” Mr. Jerome said. “The committee reserves the right to check anyone’s status as a permit holder and will continue to make spot checks.”

Mr. Jerome said that the committee, with the help of tackle shop owners and local newspapers, had made great efforts to make Derby fishermen aware of the requirement. Ignorance of the law was no excuse.

“Registering in the Derby includes the angler’s signature stating agreement to abide by all state, federal, and Derby rules, and it is the responsibility of the angler to know and abide by these regulations when fishing the Derby,” he said.

In a telephone conversation with The Times, Mr. Jerome, former Edgartown School principal, explained that the committee decided not to impose a more drastic punishment on the fishermen, because this is the first year of the law and it wanted this incident to serve an educational purpose.

“We didn’t find any intent to cheat,” he said. In both cases, the fishermen were simply careless and procrastinated he said.

Mr. Jerome said the committee has the ability to spot check licenses and the time of purchase and will do so. “Nobody is going to win the tournament without having a license. It’s just unfair to the other people who have purchased one,” he said. “We do not want anyone up on stage who has not complied with all the state and federal regulations.”

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 with a permit do not need a Massachusetts license, if there is a reciprocity agreement between states. Agreements are currently in place with Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.

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. Massachusetts had a choice: implement a permit or defer to the federal permit system and see fees leave the state.

In 2008, the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) began taking steps to implement a saltwater license. DMF invited representatives of the recreational fishing community, including tackle shop owners, charter captains, and fishing organization representatives to sit on a 24-member recreational registry steering committee to provide input on a state-issued license. Ed Jerome was a member of the committee.

The fishermen insisted that permit fees benefit fishermen. Among other features, the Massachusetts 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.”

The Mass Saltwater Fishing Permit costs $10. It may be purchased over the phone Mon-Sun, 5 am to 5 pm (1-866-703-1925), online (www.mass.gov/marinefisheries), and by mail. Phone and Internet orders provide instant registration for fishermen who want to hit the water immediately.