NY: Salt license repealed in budget plan

Albany – New York’s saltwater fishing license was set to be
repealed under an agreement between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state
lawmakers that’s tied to the upcoming state budget.

The two-year repeal of the marine license – $10 annually for
residents and $15 for nonresidents – comes despite last-ditch
efforts by sportsmen and the state’s Conservation Fund Advisory
Board to halt the move.

CFAB members say the repeal will cost millions in revenues; DEC
officials say it will bankrupt the state’s Marine Resources
Account, a sub-account of the Conservation Fund.

“The Marine Resources Account would go into the red rather quickly
– by next year,” DEC Assistant Director of Fish, Wildlife and
Marine Resources Doug Stang said before lawmakers confirmed a deal
had been reached to repeal the saltwater license.

The proposal also calls for a refund to anglers who have already
purchased a $150 lifetime saltwater fishing license. Backers of the
repeal indicated the state would make up that lost revenue through
the state’s general fund.

But the repeal, in addition to the lost saltwater license revenue
of about $2.4 million, also means the state will forfeit another
$1.4 million annually in Federal Aid in Sportfish Restoration
program funding, which is based on license sales.

And the establishment instead of a “free” registry of saltwater
anglers, as a means of complying with federal requirements, will be
free only to the anglers.

It will cost DEC more than $400,000 annually to maintain the free
registry, officials said..

“If the free registry is used as proposed in this legislation, then
the individuals who purchased a hunting, freshwater fishing or
trapping license will essentially be paying for the marine anglers
to have a ‘free’ license,” the Conservation Fund Advisory Board
said in a memo in opposition to the repeal. “…and with the
proposed legislation there will be no additional revenue to help
fund the administration of this free license.”

The prospect of scrapping the saltwater fishing license mobilized
anglers on both sides of the issue and sparked an upstate vs.
downstate and freshwater vs. saltwater showdown.

“The enactment of a saltwater fishing license fee two years ago was
just another ill-considered tax grab to deal with New York’s budget
problem,” said Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr., (I-Sag Harbor).

John Mantione, owner of J&J Tackle in Patchogue and a spokesman
for the New York Fishing Tackle Trades Association, applauded state
Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) for his efforts in pushing for the
repeal of the saltwater license.

“We have been overtaxed and under-recognized as a viable
contributor to New York’s economy for too long,” said Mantione,
pointing to the $1 billion-a-year economic impact of New York’s
marine sportfishing community.

The Conservation Fund Advisory Board, in its memo, said the
financial impact of the repeal would spark outrage “from the other
1.1 million sportsmen in New York state who currently purchase a
license to enjoy their hunting, fishing and trapping
activities.

“The persons utilizing the marine district should not expect the
other citizens or sportsmen of New York to pay their way,” the memo
read.

Charles Witek, chairman of the Coastal Conservation Association of
New York’s Atlantic Fisheries Committee, said the repeal will
hinder the state’s ability to manage its marine resources and Dec
enforcement efforts on the saltwater scene.

“It’s embarrassing that saltwater anglers are coming out and saying
it’s fine for freshwater fishermen and hunters and trappers to pay
for licenses and for us to fish for free,” Witek said.

There were several proposals swirling in Albany that would have
repealed the saltwater license. A Senate bill focused on the repeal
of the marine license, and it was also part of the Senate’s budget
proposal. Another measure in both the Senate and Assembly would
have repealed the marine license and provided for a free
registry.

It was the budget-related plan that took hold.

About 40 DEC marine resources staff are paid for out of the marine
account. The loss of the saltwater license would, according to the
CFAB memo, shift funding responsibility to the Conservation Fund,
which board members said “is totally unacceptable to the rest of
the sportsmen of New York state.”

Stang said six environmental conservation officers serving within
DEC marine enforcement unit are paid for out of the marine account.
License revenues are also used, he said, to collect and analyze
data “and use that data to manage the (saltwater) fishery in
conjunction with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
and the Mid-Atlantic Council.”

And the marine license, at $10 annually for residents, is a
bargain, he added.

“You can’t buy a bucket of sandworms for that. You certainly can’t
buy a flat of bunker for that and you can’t even get your boat to
the pump to fill it up for that,” Stang said.

Stang noted that several states already have marine fishing
licenses, and that the Northeast has been the lone holdout in
enacting those licenses.

Some neighboring states, such as New Jersey, however, have instead
put in place a free saltwater fishing registry in lieu of the
federal registry that would cost $15 annually.

The federal registry requirement came as part of the
reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and
Management Act, which directed NOAA to put the registry in place in
an effort to monitor saltwater fishing effort and harvests.

Anglers were exempt from the federal registry in states that set
their own registry or license requirements. Several states,
including New York, did that ahead of the federal mandate.

The federal registry fees go to the federal government and not to
the individual states.

New York’s saltwater license got off to a rocky start right from
the time it was enacted. Since it was implemented on a calendar
year – and not the state’s standard Oct. 1-Sept. 30 license year –
anglers had to purchase a license to fish for the remaining three
months of the 2009 season, then buy another license when the
calendar turned to 2010.

And last December, seven Long Island towns won a lawsuit against
the state which challenged the state’s ability to impose a license
to fish within town waters, citing historic patents that dated back
to Colonial times. DEC had indicated it would appeal that court
decision.

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