Optimism salt license will remain

Albany – Proponents of the state’s saltwater fishing license – a
fee that’s been targeted for repeal by some lawmakers – are
increasingly confident legislation that would scrap the marine
license will die a natural death in the state Assembly.

The source of that optimism came in the form of a press release
from DEC last month that touted the economic benefits of the
saltwater license.

DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis and Assembly Environmental
Conservation Committee Chairman Robert Sweeney announced the
planned resurrection of New York’s artificial reefs program and the
improvement of fishing and diving at 12 sites around Long
Island.

There was widespread speculation that Sweeney, a Long Island
Democrat, would be under heavy pressure to move the saltwater
license repeal legislation out of his committee and onto the
Assembly floor for a vote. The proposal passed the Senate by a 60-1
margin, much to the disappointment of DEC officials.

Sweeney’s comments on the saltwater license’s benefits, however,
are seen as an indicator the fee – $10 annually for residents and
$15 for nonresidents, with a lifetime offering for New Yorkers of
$150 – is here to stay.

“Expanding the reef program will provide tremendous new
opportunities for anglers and divers alike,” Sweeney said. “The
artificial reef program has always been popular and I am delighted
that it is being revitalized. There is also a continuing need for
improved boat launching sites on Long Island; I appreciate the
commissioner committing resources here for this purpose.”

DEC was looking at the loss of millions of dollars in revenues
if the saltwater license was repealed. Over $3 million in marine
license revenues has already been collected.

Using funds from the saltwater fishing license and the Federal
Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act (Wallop-Breaux), the restoration
plan will enhance 11 previously identified reef sites and add one
new one by creating reefs from a variety of materials, including
rock provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from its dredging
operations in New York Harbor. The south shore reef sites are
Atlantic Beach, Fisherman (Yellow Bar), Fishing Line (McAllister
Grounds), Fire Island, Hempstead, Kismet, Moriches, Rockaway and
Shinnecock. The north shore sites are Matinecock and Smithtown. The
new site is Twelve Mile reef, located south of the Moriches and
Shinnecock reefs.

The reef structures provide superb habitat for species such as
tautog, fluke, black sea bass, scup and bluefish, as well as
crustaceans.

“By keeping saltwater license fees in-state, New York can
improve an array of conservation programs – to the benefit of
anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts,” Grannis said.

Officials said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its local
sponsor, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, have
multiple harbor dredging projects continuing through 2015 that
could yield acceptable rock material for placement at several of
the reef sites.

The marine fishing license is matched with federal sport fish
restoration funding from the Wallop-Breaux Act. New York has
received $9.5 million from the Wallop-Breaux Act for licensed
freshwater and saltwater anglers for use in this year’s budget,
about $3 million of which will be available specifically for the
projects in the state’s marine district. The state will get an
additional $9 per newly licensed angler in future years’ funding
allocations.

Charter Boat Captain John McMurray said the reef program “puts
anglers’ money to work here in New York”

Charles Witek, vice chair of the Coastal Conservation
Association New York, said that group “has long supported the
marine fishing license. We believe that this restoration of the
artificial reef program is only the first of many benefits that
anglers will enjoy in return for their license revenues.”

DEC’s press release may have also been used to clarify some
misconceptions that revenues from the saltwater license were being
funneled elsewhere. Even some state senators, in voting for the
repeal of the license, contended the fee was being used for other
things outside the marine district.

Conservation Fund Advisory Board Chairman Jason Kemper said he
was disappointed “that a bill that essentially eliminates a very
inexpensive marine license can pass the Senate with such a
misrepresentation of the facts.”

In addition to the reef program, three boat launch sites are
benefiting from major rebuilding this year. At Moriches in Suffolk
County, the shoreline is being stabilized around the boat ramp and
the parking area is being improved. The $180,000 estimated funds
for the project came from sport fish restoration program.

Work on the second boat launch project at Mattituck in Suffolk
County began in the fall of 2009; it opened on June 5, 2010.
Additional improvements include a new two-lane concrete boat ramp
and parking for 60 vehicles and trailers, marine pump-out stations
and a boat washdown area. Future work calls for the creation of
more tidal wetlands and a buffer habitat, as well as a site for
launching canoes and kayaks.

DEC will also assist the Town of Babylon in updating the
existing boat launch ramp and boat slips at the Venetian Shores
Park in Lindenhurst.

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