John on Press Herald Post


Recreational fishermen are up in arms!  Soon they’ll be protesting in the streets of Augusta, pounding on the doors of the Legislature.  Liberté! Equalité! Fraternité! Unite against bureaucracy!

So what’s the fuss?  Because a recent federal law now requires NOAA Fisheries to establish a registry of recreational saltwater anglers by 2011.  The law empowers NMFS to charge a minimal fee.  However, states that have a pre-existing recreational saltwater license system are exempt.  In anticipation, the Baldacci administration is proposing a Maine saltwater license, to cost between $15 and $25 annually, which will supersede a federal license.  The new state revenues will be earmarked to improve saltwater access and facilities for recreational fishermen.

Good reason to burn the Governor in effigy!  Not really.  Recreational fishermen, as an interest group, have got to be smarter than this.

The first reason to support the Maine Department of Marine Resources license proposal is just too obvious. If the State does not do this, the Feds will – count on it.  A registry is national law.  Future fees collected by the Feds will not be spent in Maine – count on that too.

Second reason is that saltwater angling is increasing in popularity.  You have to stand in line some days, shoulder to shoulder, to go striper fishing on the Mousam and Ogunquit Rivers – from June right through to October.  On weekends there is a virtual boat parade of recreational craft trolling the Saco.  Look at the license plates of the cars parked bumper-to-bumper on the shoulders of the road – half of them are from out of state! You can bet that this added traffic costs Maine residents.  So why shouldn’t non-residents pony up through a license fee?

The third reason is the most important though.  Fact is that saltwater recreational fisheries are growing every year, in size and impact on the resource.  The current system for collecting data on recreational effort, MRFSS, is just not working.  The polling is too random.  Therefore, when fishery scientists do stock assessments on species like striped bass, cod, haddock or black back flounder, they can make a pretty accurate estimate of catch by commercial fishermen, but only a guess of catch by recreational fishermen.

When the numbers are uncertain, science advice to managers is usually very conservative.  The law now requires that scientists and managers set firm caps on fishing effort annually.  These caps will not be exceeded.  In the future, managers will have a pretty good idea of how much catch to allocate to commercial or charter vessels.  But unless they have accurate data on recreational landings, the catch limits on personal recreational fishermen will be conservative.  That means that in the future, without good data, chances are that recreational fishermen could be bumping up against limits on catch and they wouldn’t have the tools or information to negotiate something more appropriate.

So what’s the cost of ignorance?  Compare that to an annual investment in a saltwater license.  $15 is less than the price of a tank of gas for an outboard, for pity sake.