Saltwater registry upsetting to many

Posted Aug. 29, 2008, at 10:51 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:27 p.m.

For generations, Mainers have been able to walk down to the local shoreline, toss some bait or a lure into the water and fish for a variety of saltwater fish.

Some enjoy the frenzied action provided by a school of mackerel. Others prefer targeting striped bass. Still others like to get out onto the water in their boats, where they can fish for plenty of other species.

Mainers — and others across the nation — enjoy that ocean-fishing tradition.

Here, and in seven other coastal states, there hasn’t been much of a barrier facing those interested in taking part in traditional saltwater fishing.

There was no license. No fee was charged.

In the not-too-distant future, that may all change.

As reported in the BDN last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is moving forward with a rule that would create a national saltwater angler registry.

Congress directed NOAA to do so when the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act was re-authorized in 2007.

NOAA’s plan: Create a national saltwater registry by 2009, but allow states to create their own registry programs as long as they meet federal requirements. The registry would provide valuable information, NOAA says, for use when angler surveys are conducted. Eventually, anglers would be charged a federal fee of about $25.

If individual states do not set up a registry, the federal government will license anglers in that state … and keep the money.

If a state registry is set up, the state would keep all money that they chose to charge for the permit.

Interested parties were given the opportunity to comment on the plan, and NOAA announced this week that nearly 500 had done so.

“[We were] pleased to get such a strong public response on this important initiative to help ensure the sustainability of our shared fisheries,” NOAA officials said in a news release. “Sound science and complete data, applied in partnership with concerned stakeholders, are the keys to effective marine stewardship.”

Sound science and complete data are vital when making fisheries decisions in the future. Allowing stakeholders to speak their piece is also essential.

Dealing effectively with the concerns of some of those stakeholders may prove difficult, however.

In the NOAA press release, a Web link was provided. On that link, you can find all comments on their proposal.

I spent several hours perusing more than 130 of those comments — more than one-quarter of the comments received — and my unscientific survey proved one thing to me.

There are a lot of folks out there who are not very pleased with Congress, NOAA and a prospective federal fishing license.

In my amateur sampling of the comments, I found that about 20 percent of respondents favored a federal registry. Many of those wrote to NOAA representing larger fisheries or conservation groups, so it’s safe to assume that each positive comment reflected the views of an organized body of like-minded individuals.

Nearly 57 percent of the respondents were against the proposal. Most of those making comments were speaking for themselves and did not list a group affiliation.

And about 23 percent of the respondents were neither for nor against a national registry … well … kind of.

That’s where it gets sticky, you see. Many in the “neither for nor against” category — I was the judge in this case, not NOAA — seemed to like pieces of the registry plan but wanted to make such fundamental changes that I couldn’t really label them “in favor.”

Some wanted exemptions for senior citizens. Others wanted exemptions for specific states or U.S. territories. Still others wanted reciprocity, so that an angler who fished in more than one state would only have to register — and pay — once. And many others said they’d have no problem with a registry if it were free. Add a license fee (which the proposal would eventually do) and they’d be opposed.

Some of the comments were dry, science-based responses to individual portions of the plan. Others were more pointed, often showing a distrust in government officials.

A quick disclaimer: I’ve said in the past and still maintain that the money I spend for various hunting and fishing licenses is, to me, money well spent.

I have no personal problem with establishing a saltwater fishing registry and paying a small fee for a saltwater license, but would rather that the state handled the chore and the money was kept in Maine.

With that said, I offer portions of a few comments from those who don’t see things the same way I do:

From Bruce R. Weik of Freedom: “I feel that this is just another way to raise taxes, and that many of us will stop fishing because it won’t be worth the trouble. If the government needs more information about catches from anglers, it sure hasn’t put much effort into it. There are many ways to do it without going to this extreme.”

From Massachusetts state Rep. Jeffrey Davis Perry: “I would appreciate it if you would reconsider the need for a Federal government-mandated registry of saltwater anglers and leave this decision up to the individual states.”

From Edward B. Pettit of Scarborough: “This is outrageous taxation for no benefit for the taxpayer … rebellion is building against a government that taxes every freedom we have. Stop this NOW.”

From Stanley H. Krantz of Cherry Hill, N.J.: “When was I asked to vote on this? NEVER. You bureaucrats are thieves. Always ready to tell the rest of us what’s right … leave fishermen alone. You can’t improve on nature or assist it. You only interfere making things worse.”

From Robert B. Jennings of Orleans, Mass.: “I, for one, will not register. [The National Marine Fisheries Service] has done nothing to manage fisheries effectively. I was, at one time, a commercial fisherman and can say that NMFS record is abysmal.”

That’s just a tiny sample of the comments that were made. You can read all of them yourself by going to www.regulations.gov and searching for “Angler Registry.”

After considering the comments, NOAA plans to publish the final rule in the Federal Register on or about Nov. 1.

Stay tuned.

MTA rendezvous on tap

The Maine Trappers Association will hold its 61st annual fall rendezvous Sept. 5-7.

The festivities begin early on Friday, as dealers set up their tables at the Silver Spur Riding Club in Sidney. Lectures and seminars begin at 1 p.m. and run through 8 p.m.

Events are planned from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Sept. 6 and from 7 a.m. until 11 a.m. on Sept. 7.

Admission is $5 per person, but children under 12 get in free. Tailgaters will pay $10 for the weekend as will those staying on the site in tents (no electricity). Electric hookups are available for those with campers. Camping will cost $15 per night or $30 for the weekend.

Seminars will cover trapping techniques for a wide variety of animals, and youth archery shoots are planned for Sept. 6 and Sept. 7.

For more information, call David Wilson at 458-0590.

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