NJ Saltwater Registry

NJ Saltwater Fishing Registry
Saltwater Fishing Registry in NJ - A Few Thoughts
Written by Jim Hutchinson   
Thursday, 10 December 2009 15:09
Just wanted to clear up a few misconceptions about saltwater licenses and the saltwater registry legislation that was pulled out of Senate last week (but will no doubt reappear again in early 2010).  Folks had been emailing me, and thought I'd drop in and post a few thoughts from the Recreational Fishing Alliance.

The federal government does not require states to implement a saltwater license.  The Magnuson-Stevens Act - the law which governs the management of our federal fisheries - was recently reauthorized and includes a new mandate that a phonebook of saltwater anglers to be created in every coastal state; it does not require states to implement a license for funding purposes.  This new amendment was included as effort to improve the quality of information generated by the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey (MRFSS), which is the ?fatally flawed? (according to the National Research Council) survey system that federal regulators now use to determine how many fish are harvested by recreational anglers during a single saltwater fishing season. 

Currently, MRSS uses coastal phone books as a data source for contacting households at random to conduct harvest surveys on recreational harvest, a grossly inefficient method of data collection.  MSA requires that a national saltwater registry of anglers be created, with name and contact information stored in a database for each coastal state in America.  Such a program will provide surveyors with the contact information of actual saltwater anglers, and in theory should help improve the harvest information. 

A new federal data collection system is currently being devised in conjunction with this coastal registry initiative called the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP), which will utilize the names and numbers of saltwater anglers fishing within each coastal state.  Similar to the Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program (HIP) which provides the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with a national registry of duck hunters for select harvest surveys, a similar Fisherman Identification Network (FIN) would provide marine surveyors access to the phone numbers of actual saltwater anglers for actively collecting recreational harvest information. Learn more about the HIP at www.fws.gov/hip.
Online and telephone registration for the new federal registry will begin January 1, 2010. Register online for free at www.countmyfish.noaa.gov or call toll free 888-674-7411.  As of 2011, the federal government may impose a charge for registration, which is expected to range from $15 to $25 per angler. It should be noted that the federal government?s registry was supposed to have been in place as of January 1, 2009 in order to improve the effectiveness of reporting in MRFSS. 

According to the American Sportfishing Association which lobbied to include a fee for the federal registry in the Magnuson Stevens Act starting in 2011, New Jersey ranked 5th among coastal states in 2006 in terms of retail sales in saltwater fishing.  Anglers here spent over $643 million in 2006 on tackle alone, contributing more than $68 million in state and local tax revenues.  Another $92 million was raised in federal tax revenues.  Out of the $68 million in state and local taxes, our governor allocates a paltry $1.5 or $1.8 out of the general fund for marine fisheries.  Allocating a few more dollars into a successful profit model is called smart investing, you?d think a Goldman Sachs veteran would understand that relationship. http://www.asafishing.org/statistics/saleco_trends/2006sr_salt_sales.html

Federal delays in implementing the registry components of the new harvest collection system are causing considerable data collection issues up and down the coast with resulting closures on sea bass, amberjack and red snapper.  Ironically, even with a saltwater license in place in states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, the federal fisheries service has still mandated these stifling closures on recreational anglers, from black sea bass to red snapper and amberjack.   
Anglers should remember that our coastal fisheries are managed by federal and interstate councils, and states have no authority to supersede federal allocations of migratory coastal fisheries, even with an expensive saltwater license.  While I can appreciate some folks belief that a freshwater and hunting licenses in New Jersey are cool, the fact is that freshwater fishermen don?t have to share largemouth quotas with commercial draggers, and there aren?t trap lines running across the Flat Brook. 

In California as another example, sportfishing supports more than 40,000 jobs and roughly $2 billion in sales annually for sport-fishing equipment alone, according to the Sportfishing Association of California.  California charges residents $41 a year to sportfish in marine waters, and hunting and fishing licenses combined generate about $72 million annually for Fish & Game activities, supporting salaries of 200 or so officers to cover 1,100 miles of coastline.  Because the state can?t afford to pay enforcement officers any longer, a new voluntary $5 tag has been implemented to help pay for salaries. 

Sure, they?re dedicated to conservation.  And conservation includes officers, secretaries, accountants, managers, desks, chairs, cars, boats, pens, lunches, gas and tolls, scotch tape, you name it.  I know that the hard-working folks in the Division of Fish and Wildlife have been on the short end of the stick for years because of bureaucratic indifference from the top ? but it?s time for this state to reinvest in our marine resources without shuffling the bill off to the sporting community (see what happened in California for example, where angling participation is off 30% in the past 10 years of a saltwater license).  The question remains, are these funds really dedicated?  In New York, after implementing a first-ever saltwater fishing license, the powers-that-be in Albany chose to offload departmental salaries out of the state?s general fund and place them directly into the marine dedicated account.  That means essentially that the new saltwater license starts $2 million in the hole as license monies must first pay off salaries before paying a benefit to the resource.  A new lifetime saltwater license ($150) won?t be dedicated into the marine account either, but will be used for the general conservation fund which also pays for upland and freshwater projects.  Certainly not a violation of any laws, but is this truly dedicated?  Some legislators in New York say no! http://www.bignews.biz/?id=823372&keys=Senator-Charles-Schumer-Anglers

Finally gents, while a saltwater license in a utopian society might be able to improve access and pay for parks and dredging and enforcement and division salaries, will it really help us get more access to fish?  North Carolina has a saltwater license ? their sea bass fishery is still closed.  Florida is often cited as a license example ? their red snapper and amberjack fisheries are still closed.  NO matter what could do with more money at the state level, we?re still at the whim of what seems to me to be a Pew controlled NOAA fisheries who is hell bent on closing fisheries and denying access for recreational anglers. 

While I appreciate the work done by enforcement officers in this state, they?re also monitoring commercial harvesters (shellfish and finfish) while locking up poachers too.  I feel a strong need to dedicate money to addressing these issues, same as you ? but are you really willing to foot the whole bill for this without any control over or oversight in how the money is spent, knowing full well that the federal government and inter-state agencies still have the final say in the management of our coastal fisheries

Visit the marine enforcement site and you?ll see our marine division needs assistance for enforcement, that?s for sure.  Hopefully, our new administration will embrace this need and release a few million dollars extra in monies owed to our marine resources.

RFA supports Senator Van Drew's efforts, as well as those by Assembly reps Albano and Milam, for working so hard to try to legislate a saltwater registry in New Jersey to (A) count up the number of saltwater anglers, (B) comply with the federal law, (C) begin coordinating efforts in order to get better data, and (D) recognize that sportsmen are voters and shouldn't be burdened with yet another bloated user fee. 

By the way folks, thanks for all your support of RFA and especially the RFA Legal Defense Fund!

Your Can Read More Here and Comment on the NJ Saltwater Fishing Registry

Jim Hutchinson



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