Hook, Line and Stinker: Anglers don’t like new fishing fee

Published: Sunday, June 7, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

For years, Connecticut residents who enjoyed fishing in Long Island Sound could just stroll down to the shore, cast a line and wait for the fish to bite.

But with the recent passage of legislation requiring a license for saltwater recreational fishing for the first time, that informal process could change. And some local enthusiasts and fishing-supply store owners say they are worried about the effects on Connecticut saltwater fishing.

The new license, which would create an annual $10 fee for Connecticut residents, and $15 for out-of-state visitors to fish in saltwater bodies, recently passed the state House and Senate as part of a bill dealing with water quality. After the act, House Bill 5875, passed the Senate by a unanimous vote on June 2, it advanced to Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s office, where it is awaiting her signature.

If approved, the new requirement goes into effect June 15.

The bill requires anyone age 16 or older to obtain a marine fishing license in order to “take, attempt to take or assist in taking any fish or bait species in the marine district.” People 65 years and older do not have to pay the fee. Anglers on “party and charter” boats will not be required to have personal licenses, according to the DEP.

Commercial fishing is governed by a different set of regulations.

The state has required licenses for

recreational fishing in freshwater lakes and rivers for years. The DEP issues about 145,000 freshwater licences a year, earing $2.7 milion in fees.

The new marine license has been in the works since 2007 and came about because of a move by the National Marine Fisheries Service to create a marine fishing registry, said Dennis Schain, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Schain said that implementing its own license system will allow Connecticut to collect the fees, rather than having them go to the federal government. The federal registry is due to go into effect Jan. 1.

“If there is a state program, it preempts the federal program, so if you have a state program, you can do the registry and the state can keep those fees,” he said.

Schain said the DEP is projecting the new license could raise $1 million a year for the state. Eventually, he said, the DEP is hoping to create combination licenses, like it currently has for freshwater fishing and hunting, but right now fishermen would have to purchase two separate licenses.

The new rule would be enforced by DEP officers performing spot checks of shoreline fishing areas.

The goal of the registry, apart from raising revenues, is to improve state and federal management of fishing resources, he said. The state spends $2 million a year on marine fisheries monitoring and management.

“The whole effort, whether we do it or what the feds are doing, is really to be able to better manage fisheries, to have an understanding of how many people are fishing and be able to make better decisions about conservation of species and resources,” he said.

But Dave Gay, of Waterbury, who was fishing with his son Jeff at the West Haven beaches Friday, said he did not think the coastal fisheries are well managed now, pointing to examples such as poorly maintained breakwaters. He said he is not in favor of the marine fishing license.

“It isn’t like they’re putting fish in the ocean and they’re paying for fish,” Gay said. “I think they should be doing a lot more prevention and maintenance in the state. If they were doing that, at least you could say, ‘Well, the license is worth it,’ but they’re not doing nothing.”

Gay said the new license could lead him to fish in Rhode Island instead of Connecticut. He said he would be more willing to pay a fee in Rhode Island because he prefers the fishing there.

New York’s requirement for a recreational marine fishing license is due to go into effect Oct. 1, although pending legislation could delay it until Jan. 1, according to the Web site for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. Rhode Island is in the process of studying a license system, according to its Department of Environmental Management. Of the country’s 21 coastal states, the only ones without marine fishing license requirements are Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine and New Jersey.

Fees elsewhere range from $38.85 in California to $4 in Mississippi.

The Connecticut legislation includes provisions for reciprocal licensing with New York and the New England states if they implement the licenses.

Pat Abate, the owner of River’s End Tackle in Old Saybrook, said he thought the new license could decrease the number of people coming from other areas to fish in Connecticut.

“I think primarily it’s going to really discourage people coming from out of state to go fishing here because there’s no three-day license or anything like that, so anyone over 16, it’s 15 bucks a head,” he said. “So where you get the visiting relatives and you’d like to take them out fishing on your boat, I think it will discourage you from doing that.”

The state has also changed the system for purchasing licenses, eliminating the paper forms and going to an online process through its Web site, www.ct.gov/dep. Retailers and town offices can obtain dedicated computer terminals for the licenses, although stores must pay $1,850 for the terminals, Schain said. The retail outlets earn $1 for each hunting or fishing license sold.

Abate said he decided not to buy one of the terminals. He said some customers have come in not knowing about either the change in purchasing licenses in general or the new marine fishing license.

“Most people I tell about this are surprised and they say, ‘When does this take effect?’ and I tell them June 15 and then their jaw drops in disbelief,” he said. “I don’t think anyone is happy about having it implemented so fast.”

At Frenchy’s Bait & Tackle in West Haven, Paul French had put up a sign advising customers of the change taking place June 15.

John Zaluski of Meriden said he was not aware of the requirement until visiting the bait shop Friday.

“It’s just not right,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that fish out there that just do it for the kids and the family. The way the economy’s going,” the new license could be too expensive, he said.

French described himself as “disgusted.”

“People are actually fishing to eat because of the economy,” he said. “Now they’re going to think twice about it.”

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