Like a bad dream, the saltwater fishing license bill is back again. It has been talked about for years as a way of increasing revenues to the Department of Marine Resources but has been soundly rejected every time it came forward. It was killed in the 123rd Legislature and again in the first session of the 124th.
Or so we thought.
Somehow, through not-so-gentle persuasion, grand promises and misinformation, the bill has been kept alive and dragged back to the Marine Resources Committee for another crack at getting revenue from Maine anglers.
As in the past, proponents of a state license are making the same false claims: “The feds are going to require all saltwater fishermen to register and charge $25 each. If we enact a license, the money stays in Maine.” This ploy provides license advocates with a logical reason for a state license, while simultaneously enabling them to avoid blame. “We hated to do it,” they say, “but we were forced to by the feds.”
Here is the truth: Not all recreational saltwater anglers must register with the federal government. In fact, only a small percentage of them would have to.
According to Gordon Colvin, of the Fisheries Service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Anglers from Maine who fish in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (three to 200 miles from shore) or in state waters for anadromous species (striped bass, American shad, alewives, blueback herring, hickory shad and rainbow smelt) will be required to register with NOAA Fisheries Service.”
What that means is that only a small percentage of saltwater anglers must register with the feds. Anyone else — those folks fishing within the three-mile limit for mackerel, bluefish, flounder, cod, haddock, pollock and more — is exempt. Also exempt are anglers under age 16, indigenous peoples, anglers who fish from a charter or guide boat and those who have commercial fishing licenses.
Nothing in the new federal law — The Magnusson-Stevens Act — says that states must enact a recreational saltwater fishing license, but it is recommended by the feds and, from their viewpoint, understandably so. They don’t want to administer or enforce their own mandated registry.
Oddly, a state registry or license, in order to comply with the federal rules, would have to be much broader than the federal registry. According to NOAA, the only time “all” saltwater fishermen need to register is if a state adopts its own license or registry program.
The detested idea of a saltwater fishing license keeps being resurrected by proponents who seek the reward of millions of dollars for the Department of Marine Resources, which will supposedly use the money to, among other things, “enhance the recreational fishing experience.”
It can safely be predicted that the number of saltwater fishermen in Maine would be diminished by 50 percent and possibly more if this requirement were to be imposed, meaning generations of Mainers will lose their connection to their ocean heritage. It is unclear the effect this new license requirement would have on our weakened tourism industry, but the quality of life for working Mainers could take a hit. This is hardly “enhancing the recreational fishing experience.”
This state license fee would be essentially a new tax of around $3 million during a severe economic downturn and at a time when discretionary spending for families is at a very low ebb. The cost of the federal registry is a fraction of that amount.
Little has changed since the Legislature voted down this saltwater fishing license the last time or the time before that. It is still an unnecessary new tax and an infringement on our liberties.
Jonathan McKane, R-Newcastle, represents District 51 in the Maine House of Representatives. He serves on the Marine Resources Committee.