Will a saltwater license really reduce the number of anglers?

Posted on September 21, 2009

Saltwater licenses begin to hit anglers

By Chris Gatley
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.


Q. It my understanding from the NY DEC that the Charter License is $650.  $250 for the license fee and a $400 surcharge.  The license is required even if all passengers on the vessel have individual marine licenses.
- Capt. Joe Demalderis
A. There are two licenses involved.  There is a $250 license required of the charter boat itself, which has been in existence for a number of years and would still be imposed even if there were no salt water fishing license in New York, and an additional $400 license, which was imposed at the request of the for-hire industry so that their customers would not have to purchase individual fishing licenses.  It should be noted that the State of New York did not want to impose the $400 fee, but would have preferred to have every angler individually licensed. However, legislators ultimately responded to the for-hire boats' requests that a "blanket" license by imposed.
- Newsroom Moderators
Q. You need not worry that the $10 license fee recently enacted here in New York will be long standing. The sharks in Albany, excited by the scent of newfound blood in the water, probably won't delay very long in raising it to a level that will better satiate them. In closing I must relate that I will pay a $400 fee in 2010 because I hold a master license, even though I carry only 2 passengers in a small vessel, not even a six pack. Is there something wrong with this picture?
 - Capt. Stephen W. Cone 
A. We can only hope that you are correct.  The DEC's Marine Bureau is woefully underfunded, to the point that it is laying off staff, cannot meet its reporting obligations to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and is unable to conduct the basic research needed to manage important recreational species such as weakfish and winter flounder.  CCA NY had hoped that the marine fishing license would provide an influx of funds that would permit the state to manage fisheries for the benefit of New York's anglers, and for angling-related businesses such as yours (although we suspect that you already are aware of the fact, we feel compelled to point out that the law requires that all monies from the license go directly to the Marine Resources Account, to be used for the conservation and management of fish and other resources within the Marine District, and not into the state's General Fund or any other non-fisheries related account, as so many anglers erroneously believe.)  At a time when New York's hunters and freshwater anglers saw their licenses increase to $29, CCA believes that the originally-proposed $19 license fee was not an unreasonable cost for anglers who enjoy the diverse fisheries of the state's Marine District.
CCA NY realizes that you will have to pay a $400 blanket license fee in 2010, so that your customers need not purchase a license.  However, such a blanket license was the overwhelming preference of New York's charter and party boat community, who did not believe that passengers on for-hire vessels should have to be individually licensed.  It does seem surprising that there is no difference between the fee charged to a small light-tackle boat and that paid by a large party boat.  However, it was the Department of Environmental Conservation's preference that you not be required to purchase the blanket license, and that all anglers, including those fishing from vessels such as yours, purchase their own licenses.  However, the spokesmen from your industry aggressively lobbied the state legislature, and convinced lawmakers that requiring each for-hire vessel to get a blanket license was the better way to go.  In closing, CCA NY notes that you state that you must pay the $400 license fee in 2010; however, if you intend to fish the fall run this year, the state will also require you to purchase a $400 license for the remainder of 2009.  CCA NY does not agree with that provision, but it was again adopted at the request of New York's for-hire and fishing tackle industry representatives, who objected to the salt water license year running from October 1 to September 30, as is the case with all other licenses, and instead insisted that the license year and calendar year be the same.
- Newsroom Moderators