Rolling Out the Wrong Welcome Mat

Posted on May 22, 2011 by Ted Venker, Conservation Director, CCA

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.
JH says:
March 22, 2011 at 1:55 pm
Will anglers there have any leverage to expect any of those things in the future?
They successfully defeated the saltwater license didnt they?
Lure in tourists?
Obviously Venker you have never been to the New Jersey shore.
Striped bass is a gamefish in New Jersey.
Ted Venker says:
March 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm
Striped bass are a game fish in New Jersey because they were too contaminated to sell.
JH says:
March 22, 2011 at 2:04 pm
Yea they dont swim by on the way from North Carolina and the Chesapeake? They must take the subway.
Ted Venker says:
March 22, 2011 at 2:09 pm
From a 2003 article in Flyfishing in Salt Waters Magazine:
New Jersey, led by JCAA and Tom Fote is perhaps the best example of recreational fishermen coming together and fighting successfully for a gamefish bill. However, most agree that even New Jersey faced significantly less opposition than they would have if they had tried to enact the legislation today. The New Jersey gamefish bill was put into effect in 1991, again during the collapse/early recovery years. The state once hosted a relatively large commercial bass fishery, however it diminished significantly with the collapse. The roll of General Electric and its PCBs that found their way into the Hudson River played a big part as well. There were many areas in New Jersey where “contaminated” bass were deemed unfit for human consumption. As a result, a strong state angling lobby led by Fote, coupled with a collapsed bass population and PCB contaminated fish, led the remaining commercial fishermen to believe that the fight wasn’t worth it. It should be noted that with the resurgence of the striped bass, the Garden State Seafood Association has been actively working to get the gamefish law repealed, an effort which, to date, has failed, again because of JCAA, and particularly Tom Fote’s success in rallying anglers.
Ironically, Garden State Seafood Association and the local “recreational” fishing group working to implement free licenses are partners on a number of issues in the Northeast.
JH says:
March 22, 2011 at 5:30 pm
Ironically, Garden State Seafood Association and the local “recreational” fishing group working to implement free licenses are partners on a number of issues in the Northeast.
I assume you mean the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA)
Property taxes pay for and provide services (including, for example, public safety, education, transportation and environmental protection) This is the joint responsibility of state government and local governments.
No municipal official wants to raise taxes. In addition to their commitment to their constituents, they are also motivated by an enlightened selfinterest (They pay property taxes, too.) and by a desire to remain in the public’s service beyond the next election.
The new saltwater angler registry law now requires DEP to establish a free angler registry program for the state of New Jersey, much the same as what the state of Delaware has done through their Fisherman Identification Number
And your saying this is a bad thing.
JH says:
March 22, 2011 at 5:48 pm
In New jersey The DEP oversees fish and game and the sportsfish restoration act shares are appropriated up to 75% of the project costs.
The Sport Fish Restoration program is funded by revenues collected from the manufacturers of fishing rods, reels, creels, lures, flies and artificial baits, who pay an excise tax on these items to the U.S. Treasury.
An amendment in 1984 (Wallop-Breaux Amendment) added new provisions to the Act by extending the excise tax to previously untaxed items of sport fishing equipment.
Appropriate State agencies are the only entities eligible to receive grant funds. Each State’s share is based 60 percent on its licensed anglers (fishermen) and 40 percent on its land and water area. No State may receives more than 5 percent or less than 1 percent of each year’s total apportionment.
Fishermen have a right to know all this as well.
Ted Venker says:
March 23, 2011 at 10:57 am
I personally believe that it is naive to think that legislators are going to use precious property tax dollars that are used, as you say, for things like public safety, education, transportation, and emergency services, and divert any meaningful amount to the proper care of the marine resources of New Jersey. That pie is only so big. At best, you will get the bare minimum in state fisheries management, and I guess that is only a bad thing if you believe that those resources deserve better. Most anglers do. Or at least they should.
And it is a whole other question of whether people who don’t even fish should be responsible for the well-being of the marine resources for the benefit of the people who do fish. 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 allows an angler to fish all season for the price of a case of cheap beer or perhaps three gallons of marine gas.
Also, your reference to Delaware is somewhat misleading. I believe the Fisherman Identification Number system that you cite is in addition to a fishing license, not in lieu of. Delaware does not distinguish between waters, and only has a “fishing license” which is good in fresh or salt.
Ted Venker says:
March 23, 2011 at 10:59 am
Fishermen also have a right to know that a “free” registry is not really free. It costs money to run even the most bare-bones registry, and so by making it free, recreational anglers have become a burden to the state government, instead of an asset. The money to run that registry is going to have to come from somewhere, and the federal funding you reference may or may not be enough to cover it. If it does, there won’t be much left over to do anything else to manage your fisheries.
When the Garden State Seafood Association makes its next run against game fish status for striped bass, you better believe they will make the argument that those fish have been set aside for recreational anglers who don’t care enough to fund their own management and are actually costing the state money.
jh says:
March 24, 2011 at 2:46 pm
You mention your arch enemy the seafood associations –
Dont you believe the commercial fishermen should have the right to earn a living?
I’m not trying to give you a hard time here because I am onboard with CCA objectives for the most part.
Having said that many fishermen take your opinion as gospel. I would like to see gamefish status but I also think that commercial fishermmen should have the right to continue to earn a living, be retooled or bought out. That never is discussed in conversation. Its always comms vs recs. No – its not – its recs vs recs and recs vs comms.
Many freshwater anglers also fish the salt water and visa versa. They already get banged on the head for a freshwater license – Border state residents pay out of state prices.
The likely cost for New Jersey to manage the recreational mandate of the Magnusen Stephenson act will cost about 2 dollars per angler for administration.
In Delaware the charge to the angler is 7 dollars.
The Federal Government wants $15 as of right now.
Where are the arguments for the license in Massachusetts and Maine – They dont call it a license its called a permit and a striped bass endorsement
Maine residents who do not purchase a Maine freshwater fishing license who wish to fish for or catch striped bass will need to purchase the Striped Bass Endorsement for $5.
Non-residents who wish to fish for or catch striped bass will need to purchase the Striped Bass Endorsement for $15.
Remember the act was to protect anadromous fish.
jh says:
March 24, 2011 at 2:49 pm
Im glad new yorkers told the state to stick the license up their a$$.
Ted Venker says:
March 25, 2011 at 6:29 am
And on that note, JH, I think we will just have to agree to have philosophical differences. No one should treat anything they read on a chatroom or in a blog like this as gospel. Everyone should do their own research and form their own opinion on things like the role of licenses in state fisheries, the value of gamefish status, and the differences between recreational and commercial fishing.
George Hicks says:
March 25, 2011 at 8:25 pm
I cannot comprehend the idea that anyone has the “right” to earn a living from a public resource. No other public resource can be converted to private use/profit without payment of royalties as compensation for this “right”.
The greastest generator of revenues from all fishing is recreational fishing, with the least impact. Recreational fishermen, to best of my knowledge, have never collapsed or depleted a fish resource. Almost all take only what they can eat or what the limits allow, no more.
Yet, every year the reports of commercial abuses abound here and world wide. The lure of quick money or an “independent” lifestyle is too great for many to resist. Oh, how shameful it must be to get a regular job.
Some commercial fishing is a necessity, but not to the detriment of all other users without compensation or restoration for the damage to the resource. Fish & shellfish farming have shown the path that should be followed instead of “sustainable” rape of the public waters. Just what the heck does “sustainable” mean anyway? Sustainable for commercial use only? Probably. Like sustained economic growth promised by politicians & economists, nothing can be sustained forever when potential profits are involved. Is it a case of “Get all you can, as fast as you can, before someone else gets it” or “Well, its just going to waste if it isn’t commercialized”? I believe it is both. Hey, lets commercialize wild white tail deer. There certainly are plenty around, running headlong into vehicles. Sure…right………..No tree clutching loon here, just someone that knows history and has the learned to think things through to the ultimate result. The Law of Unintended Consequences is no less powerful than the one concerning gravity.
Steve says:
March 26, 2011 at 12:57 pm
Well said Mr. Venker.
JH, should the commercial fishermen continue to have the “right” to fish a fishery until it is in danger? We all have a “right” to earn a living, right?
JH, when the government is giving out the grant funds you mention above that are based on licensed fishermen, I wonder how much the state of NY will be getting? Where will the monies come from to manage the fisheries in the state of NY? Do residents of NY state need a license to harvest deer?
jh says:
March 26, 2011 at 11:32 pm
The NMFS has made available through the Interstate Marine Fisheries Commission, a fund of $2.5 million specifically intended to help states defray the cost of a free registry.