A proposal in the Legislature to create a recreational saltwater fishing license is bound to make those who like to cast a line for mackerel or stripers from the town pier feel like the government has hooked their wallet. But setting aside the tradition of free access to the resource that is the saltwater fishery, requiring a license — which LD 1331 would mandate — is a reasonable step.
Maine is one of just 10 states not requiring such a license. The reason for the license is not to milk more money from recreational fishermen, but rather to add their names to a federal registry so they can provide information about what they catch, where and in what quantities. Such information is needed to effectively manage saltwater species.
Like it or not, the federal government is requiring that Maine comply in some manner with the registry, and requiring licenses is the most logical way to do so. If the state does not act, those fishing in salt water would have to sign up with the national registry. Beginning in 2011, there will be an an-nual fee, estimated to be $25, none of which would stay in Maine.
With LD 1331, the fee for the license is expected to be $15, which will stay in Maine. That amount should not be onerous to those who also fork over like amounts for gear, bait and gas to get to where the fish are biting. In addition, the state can use the money to manage and enforce saltwater fishing laws.
It’s also a matter of fairness. Just as licenses are needed to hunt, fish in fresh water, dig clams and the like, it is time to require a license for fishing from Maine’s bay and ocean shores.
It’s true that most of the pressure on ocean fisheries comes from commercial endeavors. But in-shore recreational catches — whether for fun, food or to make a buck — also can decimate a species. It happened with elvers, the eels that returned to Maine rivers each spring.
Among the supporters of LD 1331 are Sen. Dennis Damon of Trenton; Elliott Thomas, a lobsterman from Yarmouth; Duncan Barnes, a former editor of Field & Stream magazine and board member of Coastal Conservation Association; Tom Abello of The Nature Conservancy; and Pat Keliher of the Department of Marine Resources.
If anything has been learned by the troubles in the ocean fisheries in the last 25 years it is that each species — herring, mackerel, striped bass and others — is a critical link in a very fragile chain. Monitoring the recreational catch is a sensible step toward ensuring that sport fish will be here for the next generation.