March 12, 2010

Angling bill aims to forgo licenses

MATT WICKENHEISER

— By

Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — State Sen. David Trahan tells a story about a day of fishing last spring, when he and his wife were pulling in so many stripers that she actually got bored.

It's those sorts of experiences -- and fish stories -- that people have enjoyed for generations along the Maine coast, the Waldoboro Republican said.

''It's healthy, it's a way to get out there and spend a day with your family,'' Trahan said. ''It's part of our culture.''

And it's free, although that could change.

Saltwater recreational anglers currently don't need a license, but the federal government wants to require one so it can collect better data on how the sport affects fish stocks and the economy.

The federal law allows states to adopt their own programs, provided they turn valid data over to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Trahan wants to introduce a bill that would enable the federal government to collect the data it needs without requiring a saltwater fishing license. Because the deadline for submitting bills is past, he'll need legislative leaders' permission to introduce the measure.

The Legislature voted down a 2007 proposal to set up a Maine saltwater license program that would provide data to the federal government and raise $4 million to $6 million in license fees for the state. The state Department of Marine Resources has filed a similar proposal this year.

Trahan is suggesting instead that Maine collect data on saltwater anglers through the freshwater fishing license program. Freshwater license forms could include a box indicating whether the applicant also planned to fish in salt water.

That information would be provided to the federal government, much like data collected from hunters who plan to hunt ducks. And the federal government could send surveys to saltwater anglers to collect data, said Trahan.

In addition, Maine could set up an online registry at www.maine.gov/informe, the Web portal allowing businesses and people to interact with the state electronically, said Trahan. That would help get information from anglers who fish only in salt water, he added.

Trahan said he's spoken with federal officials and they seem receptive.

''I think they'll work with states,'' said Trahan. ''I think everyone is interested in a simpler, easier way of doing this that's not confrontational.''

According to George Smith, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, the state sells 300,000 fishing licenses each year. An estimated 50,000 people fish exclusively in salt water. Many are tourists, said Smith.

Smith said his group fought the state licensing proposal in 2007 and would do so again.

''I haven't been any place in the state where anybody supports it,'' said Smith.

Smith said none of the Northeastern states have saltwater fishing licenses, and his organization was working with legislators in those states to coordinate the fight against federal efforts.

''We see (Trahan's) proposal as a solution -- I think his idea is excellent,'' said Smith.

David Etnier, deputy commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources, said the state has been doing random telephone surveys of saltwater anglers for years, and has shared that information with the federal government. The federal government, however, felt the data was lacking, Etnier said, and pushed for licensing.

Etnier said he couldn't comment on Trahan's proposal before seeing the actual bill language. Etnier said state licensing proposals have gone to the Legislature several times, but been turned down.

The difference this year is the federal deadline, said Etnier.

Under the federal proposal, anglers would have to register in 2010, and license fees would be imposed in 2011.

Rep. Leila Percy, D-Phippsburg, co-chair of the Legislature's Marine Resources Committee, also said she couldn't comment on Trahan's bill without seeing the language.

One argument against licensing in 2007 was the question of what other states would require. If New Hampshire had only a registry and no license requirement, for example, recreational fishermen would go there instead of Maine, the argument went. Percy, who sponsored the license bill for the Department of Marine Resources in 2007, said that if any government should be licensing, it should be Maine.

''If the federal government charges for it, that doesn't benefit the state of Maine,'' she said.

Trahan also drew up a resolution that legislative leaders approved asking Congress to ''recognize the sovereignty of states and their sovereign rights over their own waters and fishing in those waters.''

The resolution would have to be approved by the full Legislature.

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

mwickenheiser@pressherald.com

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