Most Massachusetts saltwater recreational fishermen will be required to purchase a $10 license if they plan on putting a hook in the water next year.
There are exceptions. Fishermen who are younger than 16 or disabled are exempt, for instance, as are fishermen on a state permitted charter fishing boat.
The new license is going to have the biggest impact on charter fishing captains. While their patrons aren’t going to be required to have the license to go out on a boat and fish, some captains will be required to pay a hefty fee above last year.
More details of the new statewide fishing license will be unveiled at two public hearings soon on the mainland: one is next Wednesday in Gloucester and the other is Thursday, Dec. 15 in Plymouth.
Mike Armstrong, a deputy director of the state Division of Marine Fisheries, said details of the license are still to be worked out, with the hope that they are ready for the start of the fishing season.
There are a few unknowns. “We have no idea how much money will be raised,” Mr. Armstrong said. The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that there are 1.5 million recreational fishermen in the state, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are 300,000. “The truth lies between them,” Mr. Armstrong said.
It is an entirely new idea for saltwater anglers, though freshwater fishermen have been getting licenses at town halls across the state for more than a generation.
Lately there has been plenty of talk about a recreational saltwater fishing license; it’s as as topical as the status of striped bass. Partly this is because this past summer local recreational saltwater fishermen complied with a federal requirement to register with the National Fish Registry, online. It was free, and was a precurser to the state run license for next year.
The requirement comes as part of Congress’s reauthorization of the Magnuson Act in 2006. A key component of the legislation was the requirement that fisheries managers at state and federal levels obtain a better idea of what recreational anglers are catching, according to Mr. Armstrong. The idea is that by establishing a registry, a list of recreational fishermen, the data would become significantly improved.
Fisheries managers have a clear picture of how much commercial fishing effort is out there. They license the fishermen and impose limits on what the commercial fishermen can land. Fish wholesalers are required to compile landing data as well.
The impact of recreational fishermen is estimated by computer formulas, using information gathered from an antiquated telephone call system and an interview system at the dock that is considered too inaccurate.
For years the NMFS has relied on telephone operators making random telephone calls to people and asking them if they’ve gone fishing. They’ve also sent people down to the dock to randomly ask anglers what they have been catching. Landing data is derived from that.
Mr. Armstrong said that under the new federal requirement, states are being asked to maintain a data base of who the recreational fishermen are, so that in the future phone calls can be to those specific anglers instead of random names in a phone book. Most coastal states already have a recreational fishing license in place.
Next year only Hawaii, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands recreational fishermen will have to register with the federal government, as their states have not created their own license. The federal fee is $15. The money goes into the federal general fund.
The $10 Massachusetts fishing license fees will be collected by the state’s Division of Marine Fisheries and it will be dedicated to the division for administration and other interests. Mr. Armstrong said that a third of the money collected from the license will go for public access projects such as public piers and boat ramps.
Resident charter captains will be required to pay $125 for a vessel permit, up from $10 in the past year. The non-resident charter permit fee will be $625.
There is no reciprocity between the state of Florida and Massachusetts, and most other states. An angler who goes to Florida and purchases a state recreational license there will have to buy one while in Massachusetts. The resident and nonresident Massachusetts angler will pay the same $10. In the case of reciprocity with Florida, Mr. Armstrong said: “We have had that conversation.”
Mr. Armstrong said the state is looking at reciprocity with Rhode Island and New Hampshire over the license issue, because of jurisdictional concerns. The state doesn’t want to get into a dispute with an angler who might appear to be fishing in Massachusetts and doesn’t have a Massachusetts fishing license, but has a fishing license from a neighbor state.
Mr. Armstrong said the state is aware that a lot of anglers come to Massachusetts from other states to fish. “We’ve heard anywhere from 400,000 to 500,000. We know it is a huge economic engine, particularly for the Cape and Islands.”
There are issues to be worked out over how anglers can purchase their license. Mr. Armstrong said the state would prefer anglers purchase their license through the division’s Web site, just as they did this year with the National Saltwater Angler Registry.
The state is looking at allowing tackle shops to issue and sell the $10 license but it does create a challenge for the shop owner, who would have to be bonded. Mr. Armstrong said he hoped that issue would be clarified before the start of the fishing season. “We know it would be a convenience for the fisherman, and a way of making money for the tackle shop owner,” he said.
Mr. Armstrong said the state is looking at fines for noncompliance. For the moment it is looking like a $50 noncriminal fine but the issue will be discussed at the public hearings. The police can make it criminal if they want to, he said. For instance, if an angler is caught holding 30 undersized striped bass and he doesn’t have a recreational license, the police can treat the matter more seriously.
As for enforcement, Mr. Armstrong said he sees the state environmental police asking an angler for his fishing license as part of the usual list of questions that are raised as part of their work.
The Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby committee, which hosts the annual fall derby, has had extensive discussions about this program, said Chuck Hodgkinson, vice-chairman of the derby.
Whenever a fisherman registers for the derby, he signs a form stating that he or she will comply with all federal and state regulations. And for each trophy-sized fish that is weighed in, the angler is asked some questions by a derby committee member.
When it comes time for next year’s derby awards ceremony, “The derby committee doesn’t want a grand prize winner on stage without a saltwater fishing license,” Mr. Hodgkinson said, adding: “The committee has not yet determined how we get there.”
The public hearings will be held Dec. 8 at the Gloucester Public High School auditorium from 6 to 9 p.m. and Dec. 15 at the Plymouth South High School auditorium from 6 to 9 p.m.
Comments can be sent to the state via e-mail email@example.com, fax 617-626-1509; and by mail 251 Causeway Street, Suite 400, Boston, MA 02114. The deadline is Friday, Dec. 17.