We should control our fisheries

Posted Feb. 11, 2010, at 7:28 p.m.

It’s not often you hear people in our state arguing for the federal government to control our laws or our money. That’s why I was taken aback by Rep. Jonathan McKane’s column, “Saltwater fishing license unnecessary infringement” (BDN, Feb. 4), calling for Washington to manage a fishing registry for the people of Maine.

The Republican representative from Newcastle called legislation to create the state registry for recreational saltwater anglers a “bad dream.” The problem is this: The registry is a reality — now it is just a matter of who will run it, the state of Maine or the bureaucracy in Washington.

Last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, testified before my committee — Marine Resources — to tell us that if the state did not create a registry to monitor saltwater recreational fishing, the federal government would.

Currently the federal registry is to be administered from Washington for free in 2010, and then in 2011 all fees paid to “fish in Maine’s waters” will be going to the federal government. It, not Maine, will be in charge of all the details from costs of the registry to fines. However, many of the costs associated with such a registry would fall on Maine’s municipalities and the Department of Marine Resources.

The other option is for Maine to create its own low-cost registry in order to ensure that Maine is in charge of the details — not Washington.

First of all, we can set the fee at $5 for Maine residents and $15 for nonresidents. Other details include setting the following exemptions: children 16 and under; people with disabilities; disabled veterans; passengers and crew members on board a vessel captained by an individual who possesses a tidewater guide’s license, or on board a commercial “party boat”; people renting smelt shacks from a commercial operator; and Native Americans, who already receive free hunting and freshwater fishing licenses. There will be a one-time fee of $10 for a lifetime registry for seniors 70 and over. Plus, Maine residents will be able to fish for free Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends as well as on the Fourth of July.

Alternatively, the federal registry will cost between $15 and $25 a year for everyone registering — there will be no differentiation between resident and nonresident. So the fellow who flies in from Ohio will pay the same as a Maine resident.

Some who oppose a state registry are suggesting that Maine should allow nonresidents who register in another state to fish for free in Maine. Currently all the other New England states are instituting their own state registry programs, so if we do nothing they will be allowed to fish for free in our waters while Mainers will have to pay the federal government between $15 and $25 starting in January 2011.

Another key piece of the federal mandate is the terms of how far off shore and what type of fish would be monitored under the registry. Opponents are misleading our communities by suggesting that the federal law applies only to those fishing outside the three-mile limit or fishing for anadromous fish, or fish that spawn in rivers. In fact, NOAA made it clear that if an angler drops a line anywhere below head of tide in saltwater where they might catch an anadromous fish that the angler should register. Here is the NOAA site: https://www.countmyfish.noaa.gov/.

The benefit of having the state run the program means our money stays in Maine. The fees will be put to good use to protect and preserve vital fish stock. Funding would go toward protecting and restoring the habitats for alewives, which are not only crucial forage fish for all recreational fish species from striped bass to trout but also key bait for the lobster industry. The current funding stream for alewives’ protection is set to expire, threatening to undermine a core staple of our fisheries.

A license or registry system is inevitable. The question is: Should we control our recreational saltwater fisheries or should we let Washington? I believe the state of Maine should.

Leila J. Percy, D-Phippsburg, represents District 64 in the Maine House of Representatives. She is the House chair of the Legislature’s Marine Resources

Committee.

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