AUGUSTA — Anyone who fishes off the Maine coast will soon have to register with the state, now that a long-debated bill has been approved by roll call votes in the House and Senate.

Registration will be free, though clerks can charge a processing fee of as much as $2. Those who buy freshwater fishing licenses will be able to register to fish in salt water for no additional cost.

Fishing for striped bass will require an additional endorsement, which Maine residents can buy for $5 a year. Out-of-state residents must pay $15. Children younger than 17 won’t have to register or get an endorsement, nor will people with disabilities. Anyone older than 70 can pay $10 for a lifetime striped-bass endorsement.

The bill, LD 1432, was batted around between the House and Senate and back to the Marine Resources Committee and became largely a partisan issue.

Democrats, led by Sen. Dennis Damon of Trenton and Rep. Leila Percy of Phippsburg, co-chairs of the Marine Resources Committee, said the registry was necessary because of a federal mandate, and that it was necessary to charge for it.

Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro, who introduced the bill, said there was federal money that the state could have used to start the registry.

Only two House Republicans voted for the bill, with many resisting what they saw as a measure that would give more power to the government and put an unnecessary barrier between people who want to fish and their freedom.

“The biggest issue is the loss of the freedom to fish in salt waters,” said Jon McKane, R-Newcastle, after a long debate on the House floor. “You still have to go to the town office or go online instead of just going fishing. It makes a big difference.”

The bill was proposed to help the federal government study fish populations and manage the resource, Damon said.

Federal authorities have said they will begin charging saltwater anglers to register with the federal government in 2011 if they are not already registered with a state.

Before the bill passed, Maine and New Jersey were the only states on the Eastern Seaboard without saltwater fishing registries. New Jersey has a bill pending.

Without the law, effective Jan. 1, “all these other states’ residents would be able to come to Maine and fish for free,” Percy said, “but Maine residents would have to pay. And they’d have to pay the same amount to fish here as somebody from Indiana.”

McKane said anyone who thinks that the cost to sign on to the registry will stay low hasn’t been watching state government.

George Smith, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said the outcome could have been worse.

“I’m 80 percent happy,” he said. “The most unfortunate part of it is that it sticks it to nonresidents.”

One argument for the bill was that money that’s collected will stay in Maine, rather than be collected by the federal government.

Smith and Rep. Edward Legg, D-Kennebunk, said the idea that the money collected will help the declining striped bass population is a myth, because of commercial overfishing elsewhere and pollution in their traditional spawning grounds in Chesapeake Bay.

“the time they get here, they’ve already run a terrible gantlet,” Legg said. “That’s why I’ve always viewed it plain and simple as a tax.”

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Ethan Wilensky-Lanford can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

ewlanford@mainetoday.com