March 3, 2010

Legislative panel deadlocks on license for ocean fishing

JOHN RICHARDSON

— By

Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — A legislative committee deadlocked Wednesday on a proposal to create a state license for saltwater sport fishing.

The Marine Resources Committee ended five hours of debate with a 5 to 5 vote on whether to require the new license at a cost of $5 for residents and $15 for nonresidents.

Some committee members said they still intend to push for alternatives, including one that would prohibit the state from requiring any kind of license for recreational ocean fishing.

The divided committee vote appears to cast the controversial idea back to the full Legislature, which sent it to the committee after failing to come to any agreement last year.

''It will be a floor issue,'' said George Lapointe, commissioner of Maine's Department of Marine Resources.

Maine lawmakers are wrestling with the idea because the federal government is implementing its own version of a license -- a saltwater angling registry -- in states that refuse to do it themselves. Maine and New Jersey are the last two states without such a license.

The federal push to register or license saltwater anglers is intended to provide better information about how many people are fishing and how many fish they are catching -- data that officials say will help keep the fisheries healthy.

Most saltwater anglers in Maine are now required to register with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at no cost.

Starting next January, NOAA will begin charging an annual registration fee to cover the cost of its program.

The amount of that fee has not been set, but has been estimated at $15 to $25.

Faced with the federal action, some lawmakers argued Wednesday to create a Maine license so that the state can control the fees and use the revenue to protect fish habitat.

''This money from the license is about restoration and management of fish species,'' said Rep. Leila Percy, D-Phippsburg. ''I am baffled by our unwillingness to just step up to the plate and do this.''

Percy said the license fees would provide resources to benefit both recreational and commercial fisheries.

The idea has been supported by a variety of groups, including the Maine Lobstermen's Association, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Several committee members said they would reluctantly support a license, but only if the cost to anglers was kept as low as possible.

''I feel we're pushed into a box by the federal government,'' said Sen. Christopher Rector, R-Thomaston.

''It's important that the dollars stay with us and not go to the federal government.''

Several members said they want the state to do nothing.

They argued that the federal registry could end up being less expensive, and that it doesn't require every saltwater angler to sign up.

The federal registry requirement applies to anglers who fish more than 3 miles from land or fish for anadromous species -- fish that spawn in rivers.

The state license requirement would apply to virtually all saltwater anglers.

''It appears to me that the lowest cost for Maine people, at this point, is to let the federal government have their registry and for the state of Maine to stay out of it,'' said Rep. John McKane, R-Newcastle.

Committee members appeared to agree to some aspects of any future license.

Proposals would exclude certain anglers, such as children 16 and younger and anglers who fish on party or charter boats or at commercial smelt camps.

Committee members also favored allowing free fishing by Maine residents on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends and on the Fourth of July.

 

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com

 

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