Saltwater Anglers Soon Must Register
Beginning on January 1, 2010, Maine saltwater anglers must register with the feds. The National NOAA Fisheries Service will implement a registration system on that day using a toll free number and Web site.
Information is already available on the Web site, www.countmyfish.noaa.gov, but anglers won’t be able to register using either the Web site or phone until January 1. When they do register, each will be given a registration number and can fish the same day they register.
Again, the Web site is www.countmyfish.noaa.gov and the toll free telephone number is 1-888-674-7411. Don’t call until January 1 – that’s when the phone system will go live.
Forbes Darby and Scott Ward of NOAA are handling the registry outreach effort in Maine and other states, and reported recently that enforcement of the registration requirement will be shared between Maine Marine Patrol, NOAA agents, and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Darby and Ward expect enforcement to be educational “for a while,” emphasizing that the purpose of the registration is to help federal officials conduct more accurate surveys of angler catches and fishing effort.
Colonel Joe Fessenden of the Maine Marine Patrol, fresh from an out-of-state briefing on the registry by NOAA’s Gordon Colvin, expressed strong disagreement with the notion that his Marine Patrol officers would be enforcing the registry requirement for the feds.
“We’re getting no federal funds for this,” said Fessenden, “and I’m down six officers” due to budget cuts, leaving the Marine Patrol with just forty-four officers. Obviously exasperated, Fessenden said, “There is no way we can add this to our duties. We won’t be checking anglers to find out if they registered.”
It’s questionable how many Maine saltwater anglers will register if the Maine Marine Patrol refuses to enforce the federal requirement. Maine anglers have been outspoken in their opposition to a saltwater fishing license and are certain to be antagonistic to this new federal mandate, particularly if there is little or no enforcement. But fines are authorized for those who fish in saltwater without registering.
NOAA has prepared a fact sheet, news article, and handout to answer questions about the registration system. Darby and Ward are hoping this information will be publicized throughout the state this month. The information is also available now on the Web site.
Registration is free in 2010, but NOAA is authorized to begin charging a fee, based on its actual costs for the system, in 2011. Initial estimates indicate a fee between $15 and $25 but that is just speculative at this time.
Not all saltwater anglers have to register. Those who don’t have to register include: anglers under sixteen years of age, on licensed for-hire vessels, on active military duty while on furlough, are disabled or are a disabled veteran as defined by the state, or who have registered in other states.
The legislature this year failed to enact the saltwater fishing registry bill proposed by Senator David Trahan in response to this federal registration mandate. Combined with the legislative defeat of a proposal to establish a saltwater fishing license, this tossed the issue back to the feds.
Although the people in this region have been able to catch saltwater fish for four hundred years without paying a fee for a permit or license, Congress threatened this privilege when it re-enacted the Magnusson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act at 2 a.m. on the last day of the 108th Congress.
This Act requires NOAA to establish the federal angler registry with the option of charging anglers between $15 and $25 to register. States that create their own registries may charge the fee and keep the money.
The requirement to register was to begin on January 1, 2009 but was postponed last December to January 1, 2010.
The Trahan registry would have established a registration system free to anglers. NOAA officials worked with Trahan and assured legislators that his proposal met the federal mandate. But advocates of a saltwater license worked successfully to defeat Trahan’s proposal, leaving Maine anglers to deal with the feds.
Still, some members of the legislature intend to take up this issue again in the upcoming 2010 session. They may be looking closely at what the state of Massachusetts recently did. In that state, saltwater angling groups teamed up with Republican and Democratic legislators to enact a law requiring all recreational saltwater anglers be licensed by the state on January 1, 2011. A recommended license fee of $10 will be acted on later by the Executive Office of Administration and Finance.
The federal government will work with the state to establish a registry in 2010, without the requirement of a fee. Before the feds can start charging a fee in 2011, the state will take over the registry and capture the money.
Without a doubt, this idea will be popular with the Maine legislature and Department of Marine Resources, both eager to find new funding for DMR.
The funds collected from the sale of saltwater fishing licenses in Massachusetts will go into a Marine Recreational Fisheries Development Fund for public access, conservation, stocking improvements, and data collection about recreational fishing.