Last year, the Maine Legislature considered two competing bills that would head off a looming federal mandate for a registry of all saltwater anglers fishing in U.S. waters. One bill was the governor’s saltwater fishing license proposal; the other bill, submitted by Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro, was for a “free” angler registry.
During deliberations, the Maine Association of Charterboat Captains, of which I am a founding member, warned the Legislative Council and the Joint Committee on Marine Resources that the real cost of the “free” registry bill would eliminate the $290,000 in annual funding used by the Department of Marine Resources to manage Maine’s saltwater recreational fishing program.
To meet the federal angler registration mandate, the association asked the committee to consider a modestly priced saltwater fishing license that would pay for its administrative costs and benefit our recreational fishery rather than enacting a so-called “free” registry bill, which according to an independent fiscal note from the Office of Fiscal and Program Review would actually cost $330,000 annually and do nothing for the resource.
In the end, the Senate wisely referred both the registry bill and the governor’s license bill back to the Marine Resources Committee for further consideration in January 2010.
As of Jan. 1, 2010, the federal mandate established by the most recent authorization of the Sustainable Fisheries Act (the Magnusson-Stevens Act) requires Maine saltwater anglers to enroll in the federal angler registry. If Maine does not establish its own license-registry within the next 12 months, saltwater angler in Maine 16 years or older will have to pay the National Marine Fisheries Service between $15 and $25 per year to fish in Maine waters. And not one penny of that federal fee would be returned to Maine to benefit our saltwater fisheries.
The association urges the Legislature to put in place a state saltwater fishing license that would benefit Maine’s recreational fishery, unlike the federal registry or the Trahan registry. The license could include all saltwater anglers in Maine by requiring those fishing for anadromous species such as striped bass and shad to pay a $15 fee, while shore-pier-dock anglers fishing for mackerel and other popular nonanadromous species (and sustenance fishermen on state assistance targeting those species) would have to register with the state but not pay a fee.
Some legislators think we should do nothing until the federal registry fee goes into effect next year. Unfortunately that will not leave enough time to complete the regulatory process by the beginning of the 2011 saltwater fishing season. A state saltwater fishing license bill passed during this current legislative session with a stated enactment date of Jan. 1, 2011, would provide the time needed to exempt all Maine anglers from paying any federal fees in 2011 while giving them a no-cost alternative in 2010. Now is the time to act.
Other coastal states across America have provided substantial benefits to their fisheries and their tourism-based economies through saltwater angling license revenues. Habitat restoration, increased public access, enhancement of local fish stocks, and the active promotion of angling tourism are a few of the programs a Maine saltwater license could fund. Struggling coastal Maine communities, in turn, would directly benefit from these program enhancements.
The association believes DMR has a track record of effectively using dedicated commercial license revenues to directly benefit the respective fisheries. Maine’s recreational saltwater fishery could benefit in a like manner.
The association represents more than 65 percent of the charter boat and tidewater guide fleet in Maine. We are independent business owners who value our saltwater recreational fishery and our marine environment. If Maine were to invest in its fishery through a modestly-priced saltwater fishing license, we believe huge dividends would result — dividends that would increase angling opportunities for Maine’s fishing public, bolster our tourism economy and create jobs in our economically stressed coastal communities.
The Marine Resources Committee has a rare opportunity to create timely legislation that it will truly enhance the future of Maine’s recreational marine fishery. Please do not squander this opportunity.
Capt. David Pecci is the fisheries committee chairman for the Maine Association of Charterboat Captains.