Vineyard saltwater recreational anglers are expressing mixed feelings about an unprecedented requirement that they’ll need a license next year when they fish.
“I hate it. I wish it didn’t happen,” said Janet Messineo, an avid recreational fisherman who also is president of the Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association, said about the new rule.
But Ms. Messineo also said that if the federal government is mandating the requirement, she’d rather see the state come up with its own license, one that would benefit recreational fishermen.
Kib Bramhall of West Tisbury, an avid fly-fisherman, said yesterday he has come to favor a saltwater fishing license.
“There has been talk about a saltwater recreational fishing license for the last 50 years,” Mr. Bramhall said. “I was officially against it because it was another way the government got involved in our lives.
“I am now for it,” he said. “I see this as an opportunity. Maybe the time has come. Ultimately it may now benefit the fishermen.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is advocating the license. The agency is charged with overseeing and managing fish stocks in federal and state waters.
The Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Act of 2006, which was signed into law in January of 2007, requires the federal agency to come up with better data on the harvesting of all species of fish by recreational anglers and commercial fishermen.
On Wednesday, the agency held a teleconference with journalists from Maine to Alaska to explain the purpose of the new recreational fishing registry and the steps to bring forward a saltwater recreational fishing license.
Gordon Colvin, a fisheries biologist at the agency, said the data that fisheries managers have for recreational fishermen is unsatisfactory.
“It is clear that the Magnuson-Stevens Act requires fisheries managers to make tough decisions,” Mr. Colvin said. “We have no choice to make them and we will. It is everyone’s interest that the data is as good as it can be. We need to get it right. If we underestimate the recreational catch, we may be allowing overfishing and harm the stocks. Ultimately people will be harmed.”
The intent of the license, Mr. Colvin said, is that it creates a registry of recreational fishermen who could be tapped for information about their fishing.
States along the coast that initiate their own saltwater recreational fishing license would be exempt from the federal license.
Indeed, most of the 24 coastal states in the nation already require their own saltwater recreational fishing licenses.
“New England is a hold-out,” agency spokeswoman Monica Allen said. “Many states along the southeastern seaboard, the Gulf Coast and the West Coast all have some kind of licensing. Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Hawaii do not.”
Vineyard fishermen already have had a peek at the pending saltwater license requirement.
Three weeks ago, Paul Diodati, the state director of the Division of Marine Fisheries, spoke to a gathering of fishermen at the Chilmark Public Library. He unveiled the state’s own plan to initiate a mandatory recreational fishing license by next year.
Last week, Ed Jerome, the president of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, agreed to join a newly formed state advisory committee to offer insight to a new recreational fishing license for the coming year.
Mr. Jerome joins others in what is being called the Commonwealth Recreational Registry Steering Committee, which will hold its first meeting June 19 in Falmouth.
“I am going, obviously looking forward to hear all the comments and concerns around this important issue . . . and I’ll be looking out for the Vineyard recreational fishermen,” Mr. Jerome said.
Mr. Diodati said the state will hold public hearings on the fishing license to resolve problems.
Yesterday, Mary Griffin, commissioner for state Department of Fish and Game, said: “I would like to have a consensus building process that brings in the recreational fishing community. Throughout the summer we are going to reach out across the state to get feedback.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration already gathers information on recreational fishing.
At present, the agency sends out people to the docks and landings to interview recreational fishermen. They ask questions about how many fish were landed, what species and where.
The agency also does random telephone surveys for coastal communities. The receiver of the call is asked whether they have gone fishing and what they caught. From the survey, statisticians estimate recreational fishing effort.
But Rob Morrison, an Edgartown fisherman, said he has seen the federal surveyors on the dock and he isn’t impressed by how they collect the information. He said he’s given them his phone number on request. “You know I’ve never gotten a call,” he said.
Mr. Morrison said he would support the idea of a fishing license if there is an assurance that the money went back into the fisheries, boat ramps and there is a public benefit. “As long as it was benefitting us,” Mr. Morrison said.
“I am not opposed to it if they set it up so a fisherman can go online, like they do with a hunting license,” said Steve Morris of Dick’s Bait and Tackle Shop in Oak Bluffs. Mr. Morris said the success of a fishing license will depend on the fisheries officials getting the word out.
On Wednesday, agency officials said the federal fishing license will be free for the first two years, beginning next year. In 2011, the federal government would charge for the license, the price could be anywhere from $15 to $25 per angler. Under the plan, so far, anglers under the age of 16 would be exempt from registering and fees would be waived for indigenous people, such as members of federally recognized tribes.
Again, states that come up with their own recreational saltwater fishing license would be exempt from the federal license.
Agency officials also reported that all fees collected by the federal license would go into the general treasury and could not be directed towards fisheries-related interests.
People who go out on charter boats would be exempt from being required to have a license, as the charter captain is already licensed and can turn in catch data for a trip.
At the Chilmark library last month, Mr. Diodati said that if Massachusetts were to come up with its own license it could be as little as $5, but it wouldn’t be as high as a federal license.
Ms. Messineo said she and the Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association will support any plan that comes down the road next year, though a state license is preferred. She said she understands the need for data. “I am a recreational fisherman. If there is a license I will get a license.
“But I am more concerned about the first-time fisherman,” she said. “If a person plans to go fishing for the first time, do they have to get a license? I come from a low-income family. I will always have a concern for the single mother and the fathers.”
Nelson Bryant of West Tisbury, a highly respected writer about the outdoors, said yesterday he can see the value of a saltwater license.
“I guess I am in favor for no other reason, for the moment, that I think this will make people aware of the fragility of the resource; in other words that this isn’t something we plunder and go happily home with our catch,” Mr. Bryant said. “I am a frugal New England Yankee, and to think that now I got to spend a few bucks to the government for something that I got for free for 70 years.”