AUGUSTA, Maine — House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Monday to reject a bill that would require saltwater fishermen in Maine to purchase licenses.
A state senator, meanwhile, said he believes his alternative proposal to create a mandatory but free registry for saltwater fishermen would allow Maine to comply with federal requirements without ending the popular tradition of free fishing along the coast.
Last December, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that beginning in January 2010, the agency would begin requiring all saltwater fishermen to be included in a national angler registry.
The purpose of the registry, according to NOAA, is to improve the accuracy of the agency’s surveys of anglers and to help it better monitor and manage populations of popular sport fish, some of which appear to be collapsing.
LD 1331 would create an annual $5 saltwater fishing license for Maine residents and a $15 license for nonresidents. All proceeds would go to specific programs, including species conservation and research, within the Department of Marine Resources.
But the bill failed on a vote of 96-45 after moderate debate. Several opponents who spoke objected strongly to the federal government telling the states how to operate their recreational fisheries, saying saltwater fishing is one of the only free activities left for sportsmen.
“They are counting on the state to do the dirty work on this unfunded mandate,” said Rep. Jonathan McKane, R-Newcastle. “Just because the federal government wants us to take money from our residents, it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.”
But supporters of the license bill said anglers are going to have to pay to fish by 2011 no matter what. NOAA officials have said that fishermen who do not hold state-issued saltwater fishing licenses will have to buy into the national registry, at a cost of $15 to $25.
At least with a Maine-issued license, DMR will keep the money, bill supporters said. They also said it doesn’t make sense to require freshwater fishermen to purchase licenses but not saltwater fishermen when the species in both environments need monitoring and conservation.
“A $5 ticket on an annual basis for saltwater fishing is a bargain compared to what other states are charging,” said Rep. Thomas Watson, D-Bath.
The Senate, meanwhile, is preparing to debate a bill that aims to keep saltwater fishing free while still supplying the federal government with the information it wants.
Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro, said federal officials have assured him that they simply want fishermen to have to register with the state or NOAA, regardless of how it is done. Trahan’s bill, LD 1432, would require that anglers provide their names, addresses, dates of birth and telephone numbers to a state-run registry annu-ally.
They could do it either through the state’s online licensing and registration system, known as MOSES, or through an agent. The only fee for registering would come from the agents, if they charge one.
“This is a federal mandate, and I believe we should ask the federal government to fund it,” Trahan added.