Gov. Deval Patrick this week signed into law a saltwater recreational fishing license requirement that is the first of its kind in the commonwealth.

The license law takes effect Jan. 1; its purpose is to improve the way federal and state fisheries managers gather data about fish landings.

The legislation reportedly sailed through the house and senate over the last two weeks. Ed Jerome, a member of the 24-member state Recreational Registry Steering Committee, which helped write the legislation, said it was a long process. “It was a lot of hard work by a lot of people,” Mr. Jerome said.

“This is a major piece of legislation that has been enacted, and I am pleased that we had 25 sporting groups support this,” said Mary Griffin, commissioner for the state department of Fish and Game, who attended the signing in the governor’s office along with about 20 lawmakers, representatives of the Division of Marine Fisheries and fishermen.

Recreational freshwater fishing licenses have long been in place, but until now there has been no license requirement for recreational saltwater fishing.

The impetus behind the license came when the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act of 2006 was reauthorized. As part of that act, the federal government seeks to gather better data on fish landings from recreational fishermen all along the coast. And improved data collection is expected to lead to improved management of the fisheries. To that end, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a rule stipulating that all recreational fishermen be part of the national saltwater angler registry by Jan. 1, 2010. Fees will begin in 2011. Coastal states that adopt their own recreational saltwater fishing license law are exempt from the federal fees.

Massachusetts will at first make the license free and then begin charging fees. Money raised through fees is also expected to be used by the state to improve or purchase land along the shoreline, giving fishermen better access.

There is plenty of data available from commercial fishermen, but until now recreational saltwater fishing data came from scattered outreach surveys and computer models. Island anglers tell stories of being met at the dock by a federal employee seeking landing report data. The work was unscientific and the results were unreliable.

With the new license, federal and state fisheries managers will have names and addresses and other information for fishermen; as a result surveys are expected to be more effective and accurate.

Massachusetts saltwater fishermen will be required to register for the license in 2010. The first annual license is free, and fees will begin in 2011. The state Division of Marine Fisheries is considering a $10 fee for the first year. A public hearing will be held to air the issue.

There will be exemptions for children under 16 and people who are disabled. People who go out on charter fishing trips will be exempt. Licenses can be purchased on the Web.

The concept is not new; many states already have saltwater recreational fishing license requirements. “Florida already has a recreational fishing license. If you go to Florida you get a three-day license,” Mr. Jerome said.

Cooper A. Gilkes 3rd, a well-known fisherman and tackle shop owner in Edgartown, said: “I have nothing against the license. If it is not done properly we will get hurt. I hope they have everything in place.”

But Mr. Gilkes said if recreational fishermen are asked to provide catch reports, he doubts they will be accurate.

“My fingers are tightly crossed hoping that the money will actually go back into the fishery. If the money does it can be a good thing. The history of this state does not give one unbridled optimism,” said Kib Bramhall, another well-known Island fisherman who lives in West Tisbury.

Not all states have followed the federal directive. Legislation to create a license requirement in Rhode Island was approved by the state legislature this year, but Gov. Donald Carcieri vetoed the bill in early November. The governor called the $7 license “excessively intrusive.”

He also said: “This is the Ocean State. It is a place where people have been free, up to now, to cast a line into Narraganset Bay without government intrusion. Why the proposed change?”

Rhode Island now must adopt the mandatory federal recreational saltwater fishing license; fees will go to the U.S. Treasury.

Mr. Jerome said he believes it is only a matter of time before Rhode Island goes the way of Massachusetts.

A statement on the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries Web site says: “The commonwealth is better situated than the federal government to administer a registry program and provide user benefits to our local fisheries for less money. Being able to control costs to anglers, develop specific program benefits and eliminate questions over jurisdiction and authority are strong incentives that are driving our willingness to discuss state participation in a registry.”