You'll need new federal fishing license in 2010
There is a sea change coming for recreational saltwater fishermen in Massachusetts. With some exceptions, before fishermen cast a line in 2010, they will need to register with the federal National Saltwater Angler Registry.
The federal registration requirement is a prelude to a state license that will go into effect in 2011 when Massachusetts will move to fully implement the provisions of a new law that created a Massachusetts saltwater fishing license.
Last month, Gov. Deval Patrick signed Chapter 161 of the Acts of 2009, "An Act providing for Saltwater Fishing Licenses."
The Patrick administration emphasized the law provided for a lower permit fee than that proposed by the feds and for the retention of fee revenues.
The law created a separate account for all license fees known as the "Marine Recreational Fisheries Development Fund." The Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) has proposed a $10 permit fee.
Mary B. Griffin, Department of Fish and Game commissioner, told The Times last week that the new license will meet new federal requirements and benefit fishermen by retaining permit fees for program administration, better fisheries management, and improved public access for recreational fishing.
Ms. Griffin said the state license had widespread support from recreational fishing leaders and groups in Massachusetts. One important benefit, she said, would be better data on the type and quantity of fish caught.
In the past, discussion of a saltwater license raised concerns that the money generated would be added to the general fund and available for uses unrelated to fishing. Ms. Griffin said the intent of the legislation is very clear, in that permit fees are to be used to support recreational fishing. Ms. Griffin added that it is important to note that the legislation had wide support from fishing groups and lawmakers. "It is a good bill that meets a lot of diverse needs," she said.
In Dec. 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.
NOAA mandated that all anglers and spearfishers who fish recreationally in federal waters be included in the national saltwater angler registry by Jan. 1, 2010. Initially, registration is free. But the Feds intend to begin charging a fee still to be determined beginning in 2012.
NOAA said it would exempt anglers from the federal registration rule if they were licensed in states that have a system to provide complete information on their saltwater anglers to the national registry.
Currently, 15 coastal states have comprehensive licensing or registration requirements that meet federal guidelines: Alabama, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington.
Massachusetts will not have a license system in place until 2011. As a result, beginning January 1, 2010 fishermen will need to register with the National Saltwater Angler Registry.
Registration can be done online at www.countmyfish.noaa.gov, or by phone at 1-866-674-4411.
NOAA this week began a publicity campaign to alert fishermen to the need to register.
"By registering, recreational anglers will make their catch count," Jim Balsiger, acting NOAA assistant administrator for NOAA's Fisheries Service, said in a press release. "The National Saltwater Angler Registry is an important tool that will enable us to better estimate the health of marine fisheries so that we're able to preserve the pastime of recreational saltwater fishing for generations to come."
Fishermen will need to provide their name, date of birth, address, and telephone number. They will receive a registration number that will allow them to fish immediately. After about 30 days they will receive a registration card in the mail, according to NOAA.
The Massachusetts DMF last year 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 of Edgartown, president of the Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby and former Edgartown School principal, was a member of the committee.
Mike Armstrong, assistant DMF director, told The Times that the proposed fishing license fee would be subject to a public hearing and must be approved by the executive office of administration and finance. DMF is now working with a vendor to set up a license purchase system, he said.
The new law dictates that the fund 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 expenditure in a fiscal year must be "expended on existing or new facilities and other activities that improve public access to recreational saltwater fishing."
"We're pretty happy with the way it turned out," Mr. Armstrong said.
New law rules
The DMF director, in consultation with a newly established marine recreational fisheries development panel, will administer the fund.
Recreational saltwater fishing is defined as "the non-commercial taking or attempted taking of finfish for personal or family use; provided, however, that the finfish are not sold, traded or bartered."
Non-resident fishermen who hold a valid recreational saltwater fishing permit from another state, fishermen under 16 or over 60 years of age; disabled fishermen; and fishermen on licensed charter boats would not be required to hold a license.
All permit fees must be deposited in the Marine Recreational Fisheries Development Fund.