Sign-up lagging for salt registry

Below angler estimates

Albany — New York’s saltwater angler numbers have in the past been estimated at nearly 300,000. But not nearly that many anglers have signed into the n-fee registry put in place following the repeal of the state’s saltwater fishing license last year.

The struggle to get an accurate count of the number of saltwater anglers in New York could ultimately impact catch and harvest estimates for many species, and could even prompt the National Marine Fisheries Service to mandate that anglers comply with a federal registry that carries a $15 fee.

“I haven’t looked at the registry numbers, other than the number registered is significantly fewer than (the number of saltwater anglers) who purchased marine recreational licenses the previous year,” DEC assistant director of fish, wildlife and marine resources Doug Stang said earlier this month.

Stang said DEC officials are working with the National Marine Fisheries Service on a revised memorandum of understanding to provide the needed data so New York will continue to be an “exempted” state whose saltwater anglers would not be required to participate in the national registry.

But there are no guarantees that will happen, since federal officials rely heavily and data such as angler numbers and catch and harvest rates to set regulations for various saltwater species.

“One issue that could develop is that if, in the National Marine Fisheries Service’s estimation, New York’s registry is not being adhered to or it is not effective in providing accurate data on the number of recreational anglers, NMFS could deny New York’s exemption request and require that New York anglers participate in the federal marine angler registry,” Stang said.

That would mean New York’s saltwater anglers would have to comply with both the no-fee New York registry as well as pay the $15 federal registry fee – which, ironically, is $5 more than the state’s resident saltwater license that was repealed last year as part of an agreement between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers in the state budget.

Stang said a quick look at New York’s saltwater license and saltwater registry data last month showed that the list of saltwater anglers was 20 percent less than the 2010 figure.

“Based on the most recent (2006) national survey of hunting, fishing and wildlife-associated recreation, there was an estimated 291,000 marine anglers in New York,” Stang said. “Based on license sales (prior to the repeal) and the registry, our estimated number of marine anglers were 68 percent and 55 percent of this number in 2010 and 2011, respectively.”

New York’s effort to get an accurate count of its saltwater fishermen has been further hampered by a court ruling that exempted seven eastern Long Island towns from participating in either the saltwater license or the free registry. Those towns successfully argued that fishing rights dating back to Colonial times exempts them from the requirement.

Stang said there’s no doubt that ruling has contributed to the lower numbers of anglers on both the license and registry tallies.

At this point, the data challenges haven’t impacted catch and harvest estimates for New York’s saltwater species by the National Marine Fisheries Service. That could change, however, when catch and harvest estimates start being based on lists of anglers provided to NMFS that are generated via state and federal license or registry programs, beginning this year or in 2013.

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