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Permit format causes confusion among anglers

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Jan 5, 2009
May 17, 2010

Permit format causes confusion among anglers
By Liz King


Recreational fishermen around the region are enjoying the start of an early season for stripers and other prizes.

But many anglers' understanding of a new federal law requiring saltwater recreational fishermen to register with the federal government for the first time is tangled, at best.

Under rules set forth by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, anglers across the country must register for a permit this year in order to do any saltwater fishing. Previously, there was no license or permit required for saltwater fishing in Massachusetts.

"The goal is to gather some information about recreational fisheries — to make sure there's good statistics about what's being caught and where, and to help better manage the fisheries for the future," said Catherine Williams, a spokesman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

Registering online this year is free, but next year's proposed federal fee is between $15 and $25. However, states may develop their own licensing and fee system in lieu of the federal program.

In Newburyport, harbormaster Paul Hogg has been handing out Saltwater Recreational Fishing Guides and directing people to the National Saltwater Angler Registry website, countmyfish.noaa.gov, as many people have come in saying they are confused about the new law — if they've even heard about it at all.

"It's kind of new to everyone," Hogg said.

Under changes made to the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act — which regulates commercial and recreational fishing alike — those fishing in tidal waters for anadromous fish have to register with the National Marine Fisheries Service. People fishing on vessels like tour boats, and anglers under age 16 are exempt.

Anadromous fish are those that migrate from salt water to fresh water to spawn, like salmon and the striped bass that have now been spotted and landed in Gloucester's Annisquam River.

Registering is a relatively simple process — you are asked your name, address, date of birth, current home or cell telephone number and region you plan on fishing in. The phone number may be used for surveys to better gauge the recreational catch.

States can become exempt from the requirements by implementing their own registry, essentially a state fishing license. Massachusetts recently enacted a state law that enables Marine Fisheries to implement a permitting program for 2011 and beyond that will exempt the state's saltwater recreational anglers from the federal registry.

Williams said the state will charge $10 for permits next year.

The state's Environmental Police are responsible for enforcing state marine fisheries laws as well as some federal fisheries enforcements, Williams said. However, enforcement policies are still being developed.

Though the requirement to register was enacted at the beginning of the year, NOAA has not yet determined a penalty for not registering, Williams said. She said if there are fines or other penalties, the Environmental Police and U.S. Coast Guard would be enforcing those penalties.

Fees collected by the National Saltwater Angler Registry will go to the federal treasury, according to the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game Web site. They will not be designated for any specific purpose.

Williams said the money collected from state permits next year could be used to increase access to saltwater fishing, like installing new boat ramps, parking, or new paths, docks or piers.

Another portion, she said, would be used for research on recreational fisheries. Some money will go toward creating a database to track recreational saltwater catches.

To register, visit www.countmyfish.noaa.gov or call 888.MRIP.411 (888.674.7411).
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