Saltwater fishermen will have to get a license to fish starting in 2010. (Globe photo)
By Beth Daley, Globe Staff
When the federal government announced last spring that recreational fishing in saltwater would require a license by 2009, Northeast fishermen vehemently protested.
Of the 23 coastal states, only the seven stretching from Maine to New Jersey, plus Hawaii, do not require licenses for saltwater recreational fishing. Northeast anglers have long held a deep-seated belief that fishing on the ocean should always be free – and previous attempts to charge for the privilege in Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire and Connecticut have all failed in recent years.
Now, new rules published today in the Federal Register say the program will go forward – but not until 2010 to allow states to develop saltwater fishermen registries. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials say fishermen will have to start paying an estimated $15 to $25 for a license in 2011.
An estimated 2.5 million people fish for fun off New England’s coast each year. While attention has focused on the vast number of fish commercial fishermen take, federal officials have grown increasingly concerned about how many anglers reel in.
For decades, officials have relied on an annual survey that randomly asks residents of coastal counties whether they fish and, if so, how many fish they catch each year. The survey also is conducted at public docks.
But residents who have only cellphones are missed, as are those who fish from private docks or who come to shore at night. Federal officials suspect they are underestimating the catch in some places but say they could be overestimating it in others. A saltwater fishermen registry will allow them to have better data collection that could mean more restrictions in some fisheries and a loosening of them in others.
We want “to do good surveys and understand how much fish are actually being fished and how,” said Monica Allen, a spokeswoman for NOAA.
The rule will mean most fishermen - whether fishing from a dock, beach, or a boat - will have to have a permit. State waters within 3 miles of shore aren't normally covered by federal rules. But the new regulation would apply to fishermen who might catch any species that travels between fresh and saltwater, such as striped bass, one of the most popular New England sportfish.
For more information, go to http://www.countmyfish.noaa.gov