Saltwater licenses begin to hit anglers

Editor's note: Capt. Chris Gatley can be found with his fishing clients chasing striped bass in front of the Statue of Liberty, or heading offshore to the Atlantic Ocean canyons off the NJ/NY coast for tuna. His articles on cutting-edge fishing techniques can be found in The Fisherman Magazine, and he's a regular presenter at key sports shows during the winter months (when he's not pursuing whatever he can find in East Coast rivers).

Is this what a picture from a New York waterway is going to look like once the Recreational Marine Fishing License is mandated in two weeks? If the nominal fee of $10 rapidly increases like the State of California's marine license, who knows for certain?

Last Wednesday, I opened my mail to a letter requiring already licensed party and charter boat operators for the State of New York to purchase an additional license they call the Recreational Marine Fishing License. It costs $400.

Commonly thought of as a saltwater Fishing license by the angling public, my research tells me that major confusion lies on the horizon as this is clearly a vehicle by some northeast states to create extra revenues through existing saltwater fisherman.

To clear up any confusion on this topic, I called my good friend, Jim Hutchinson, Managing Director for the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA).

Hutchinson and the RFA are well-known for pulling up their sleeves and battling for the rights of the angling public. He informed me that The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration has required all states to keep a registry of saltwater anglers.

This registry is simply a phone book of saltwater anglers listing their name, contact information and states fished. The purpose of this registry is to obtain detailed data on fisheries information, to better track populations, migrations and other pertinent data through current saltwater anglers.

Currently, Delaware, Virginia, Connecticut and New York comply with the federal mandate. Or do they?

"This is a complicated matter as some states are using this registry as a means to push an actual license onto the books," Hutchinson said. "The RFA has pending legislation in the works in states like New Jersey to create and adopt a program they call 'FIN,' or Fisherman Identification Number.

FIN closely resembles the Harvest Information Program (HIP) currently used by duck hunters. This serves as a reference guide on registry entrant costs. Currently, the cost for HIP is $2 per entrant.

"FIN will cost each entrant roughly $2, just like the existing HIP platform," Hutchinson said. "Some states here in the northeast, such as Connecticut and New York, are using this registry requirement to pass a saltwater license; ultimately raising additional revenues to be used by that independent state how they see fit."

The additional fees have hit at an inopportune time for some.

"We all knew this was coming" said Capt. Frank Masseria of Vitamin Sea Charters in Tottenville, N.Y.

"But to inform charter captains that in two weeks we must purchase a $400 license is absurd, especially since the season here in New York is over sooner than it starts.

"For instance, the state is closing our tautog season in mid-December, the heart of our season and they want $400 now."

The State of New York requires this recreational marine fishing license starting Oct. 1. This license must be renewed on Jan. 1, 2010. In New York, recreational anglers are required to pay a nominal fee at $10 for all New York residents while charter captains must pay $400 annually.

Like Capt. Masseria, I am a charter captain and I personally thought of this registry as a license. Plus, most saltwater anglers I talk with think of this registry as a saltwater fishing license. To the angling public, these two words — registry and license — are synonymous, not really a big deal.

However, Hutchinson informs me that they are two separate issues. NOAA has asked for a registry, a phone book of names that the RFA says can be handled for $2 per entrant. It appears that individual states here in the northeast are taking this opportunity to add extra monies on top of that registry and passing this license onto all saltwater anglers.

States that are currently without any form of registration include Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey. Connecticut, Delaware, Virgina and New York currently have a requirement in place. Beginning Oct. 1, all anglers who wish to fish New York saltwater waterways must possess a Recreational Marine Fishing License.

To learn more about the Recreational Fishing Alliance, Please visit www.joinrfa.org