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State Looking To Establish Saltwater Fishing License; Trustees Question Legality Charging Wrong Way To Fill Budget Gap

Originally Posted: April 21, 2009

Andrea Aurichio

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A provision requiring a saltwater fishing license in New York State has Southampton Town Trustees and local sport fishermen battling for their "undeliable rights." Photos Andrea Aurichio

Southampton - This time they've got you hook, line and sinker with a new regulation requiring saltwater anglers, that's you fishermen out there, to get a license from New York State before you bait your line. The new regulation is making its way through the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) this week following New York State Governor David Paterson's signing of the licensing provision as part of the state's 2009 budget where it appeared as a line item.

Surfcasters in Montauk during the October run of stripped bass on the south side of
Montauk Point.

Paterson approved the measure earlier this month to bring the state into compliance with a federal program underway under the auspices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The program, aimed at creating a national registry of saltwater recreational fishermen with the cooperation of the states, is intended to aid in the long range protection and conservation of the nation's marine resources.

Legislators in Albany noted the provision and the charging of the proposed $10 annual licensing fee would generate yet another source of revenue that could be used to help close the state's budget gap.

The licensing requirement and fee met with strong opposition from the Southampton Town Trustees this week as the five member board stood firm in their contention that the state's move was illegal as well as unconscionable.

"It's a clear cut violation of the Dongan Patent and the Andross Patent," Trustee Eric Schultz charged. "We predate the state government and we have ample court rulings that have established our jurisdiction. The people in Southampton have an unconditional right to fish." The Trustees are prepared to indemnify town residents should they be charged with violation of the state law.

The Dongan Patent, written in 1686, established the Trustees as the oldest governing body in Southampton with the right to control the use of the lands underwater as well as grant residents the undeniable right to hunt and fish the land. The Andross Patent provides similar rights and protections to Southampton residents. These patents also exist in other towns on Long Island where Trustees preside over town waters.

A spokesman for New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele (R-Sag Harbor) noted the Assemblyman opposed the provision and voted against it earlier this month. According to his staff, Thiele opposed the fee as a means to generate revenue to close the budget gap but agreed with the concept of licensing fishermen to bring the state into compliance with federal regulations.

Thiele is introducing a resolution this week aimed at eliminating the licensing fee. He is in the process of seeking a co-sponsor in the Assembly and hopes to gain the backing of New York State Senator Ken LaValle as the bill makes it way to the Senate.

The program, aimed at creating a national registry of saltwater recreational fishermen, is intended to aid in the long range protection and conservation of the nation's marine resources. Here, a blue fish taken off Sag Harbor waters by John Fitzpatrick. Photos by Christine Bellini

The DEC will be the lead agency in the issuance and enforcement of the licensing provision. Details concerning the licensing provisions are being formulated by the DEC. Preliminary information indicates an initial fee of $19 was proposed and rejected in favor an annual $10 fee for all recreational fishermen. Charter boats and party boats will be required to obtain annual permits at a cost of $450. The DEC will offer a seven day permit for $8. A one day permit will be available for $4 if all goes according to plan. Fines for those found in violation are still being drafted as well.

Critics of the plan noted the cost to administer and enforce the new regulations could easily surpass the revenue generated by the fees collected.

NOAA estimates indicate they are 15 million salt water anglers nationwide. According to NOAA the data is needed to help end the over fishing of the nation's waters as required by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
To read the final registry rule and other information about the Marine Recreational Information Program go to http://countmyfish.noaa.gov.

Similar licensing fee regulations are being enacted in other states - most recently in New Jersey and New Hampshire. The federal government is hoping for full compliance with the program by 2011.

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