|SAY "UNCLE": The feds are talking again about licensing marine anglers.
Having been around sport fishing and its many issues for 35 years, I would be hard pressed to find a topic that has created more discussion, dissidence and downright acrimony than the salt water fishing license. While some think it is another government boondoggle, others believe it is, and will be, the one thing that pulls sport fishing's chestnuts out of the fisheries-management fire.
Now the debate is back at center stage. Two major commissions-the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy-have recently made similar recommendations to improve marine-resource management. Both supported the concept of licensing or permitting for recreational fishermen.
Congress has followed up on the commissions' suggestions with a comprehensive ocean-management bill. Incorporated into legislation to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the bill would introduce some changes to the way fisheries are managed. It would also include a measure to "permit" all salt water anglers. SWS has not come out in favor of a federal license over the years, but we have supported state-by-state licensing, preferably with dedicated funding that goes back to the resource.
Comply and Collect
The bill, if enacted, would allow each state to administer a license, so long as the process gathers the contact information of the individual. The ability to reach anglers would improve the data-collection process for recreational fisheries, which would in turn allow our true impact to be determined. The accuracy of the Marine Recreational Fishery Statistics Survey has always been questioned and the ability to survey anglers would give the document credibility.
Currently, 14 of 23 coastal states have some sort of stamp or permit, and nine do not. Existing permits may need to be modified to meet federal requirements outlined in the bill.
Some states have long had licenses, such as California, while others are newcomers. The general sense is that the license has been a positive addition overall. Certainly in some states-particularly in the South-the license has led to better-managed recreational fisheries.
One Issue, Two Sides
Rob Kramer, president of the International Game Fish Association, directed outreach and education for the Florida Division of Marine Fisheries when the license was instituted. "The license was a real boost to recreational fishing, with funding going back to the resource and coordinating data collection," Kramer said. "Florida also uses some of the funding for outreach and education."
Organized West Coast anglers are also pro-license. "Sport anglers have played second fiddle to industrial fishing interests because of our inability to put together relevant data on our size, our light footprint with regard to habitat and resource and our immense economic impact," said Tom Raftican, president of the United Anglers of Southern California. "Nationwide data collection will start to cure many ills."
Others consider the license a tax at a time when anglers face more restrictions. "The Jersey Coast Angler's Association (JCAA) is against the salt water license as outlined in the bill because of how the highly migratory species (HMS) permit was handled," said Tom Fote, legislative chair of the JCAA, referring to the $22 HMS permit fee that resulted in little gain in angler access or data collection. "On the state level, JCAA opposes the license because New Jersey will not dedicate the funds."
The JCAA is not alone. "We see the language in the bill creating a salt water fishing license that would do little more than create an additional tax and more confusion," said Jim Donofrio, executive director of the New Jersey-based Recreational Fishing Alliance.
Pay to Play
"The license is a mechanism that enables recreational fishermen to have a seat at the bargaining table when fisheries-management issues are decided," said Walter Fondren, chairman of the Coastal Conservation Association. "To argue against the license is to argue for representation without taxation and you get what you pay for. In those states where salt water licenses have been implemented, anglers have achieved near-miraculous conservation victories."
A license in all coastal states will bring substantial constituencies into the system and make it change.
Will a license solve all fisheries problems for anglers? Doubtful, but it should begin to tilt the process in their favor by providing statistics that the commercial side cannot dispute.
Industry leaders are hopeful. "The license has worked for 50 states to improve fresh water fishing," said Mike Nussman, President of the American Sportfishing Association. "It should and can work for salt water as well."
Florida's fees pay for angling.
To see the license benefits, look to the Sunshine State, where the funds from salt water license and permit fees&$151;more than $17 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2005-go back to the fisheries anglers enjoy.