The days of casting for free from a pier or the beach for striped bass and other saltwater species are coming to an end.
Earlier this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced plans to begin requiring that recreational saltwater fishermen register with the agency beginning in January 2010. Federal officials say the registry will allow them to track how recreational angling affects fish stocks as well as the economic con-tribution of fishermen.
No fee will be charged for the first year, but anglers will likely have to pay $15 to $25 for a saltwater fishing license beginning in 2011.
NOAA’s rules allow states to require their own saltwater fishing licenses or registries, with all of the resulting revenues staying within state coffers. All revenues from a federal registry will go to the federal government.
As a result, Gov. John Baldacci’s administration is introducing legislation to begin a licensing program for saltwater anglers.
Baldacci spokesman David Farmer called the NOAA decision “unfortunate” and said state officials have concerns about a registry being imposed upon the state. But if a license is going to be required, Maine might as well be able to keep the revenue, Farmer said.
Licensing of Maine’s estimated 300,000 saltwater anglers is expected to generate $3 million in revenue for the state.
“We think it’s important that, at the very least, the Legislature has another discussion about this,” Farmer said. Lawmakers killed a measure to create a state registry earlier this year.
NOAA officials point out that the registry was strongly recommended in a 2006 independent scientific review by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. That recommendation then became law last year in the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the federal law dealing with regulation of saltwater fish stocks.
The agency had originally proposed that the registry begin this January, but officials bumped back the requirement an additional year to allow states to adopt their own programs.
“Better national surveys of the more than 15 million saltwater anglers will help us demonstrate the important contributions of recreational anglers to both local economies and to the nation’s,” Jim Balsiger, acting assistant administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service, said in a statement. “The registry will help us gather compre-hensive data to ensure sustainable fisheries built on the best available science.”
Under the federal registry, NOAA will collect the following information from anglers: name, date of birth, address, telephone number and the regions where they plan to fish. That information will then be used to conduct surveys on fishing activity and the amount of fish that are caught, according to NOAA.
Anglers who fish only on licensed charter or party boats will not be required to register because those boats are already surveyed separately by NOAA.
The agency received nearly 500 comments from the public on the proposal earlier this year, with many of those in opposition to saltwater licenses. None of New England’s states require saltwater fishing licenses.
Patrick Keliher, who heads Maine’s Bureau of Sea-Run Fisheries and Habitat within the Department of Marine Resources, said the money generated by a state-issued license would certainly help pay for fish restoration, monitoring and other projects.
“Our feeling is we could put this money to good use in the state,” Keliher said. “The reality is there is going to be a registry.”