The state Department of Environmental Conservation is once again exploring the prospect of requiring saltwater anglers to buy a license to fish in state marine waters.
A survey recently posted by the DEC on its website suggests the license would be “no less” than $10 a year, and would “enhance angling opportunities and support management of key species.”
Reaction on Long Island this week was decidedly mixed.
“It sounds like 100% bureaucracy to me,” said Rick LaTorre, captain and owner of the Capt. Whittaker, a partyboat out of Captree State Park. “ … People get taxed enough.” The current fishing registry is enough, he said. “Let them fill out the paperwork and go fishing.”
WHAT TO KNOW
- The state Department of Environmental Conservation is exploring the prospect of requiring saltwater anglers to buy a license to fish in state marine waters.
- A survey on the DEC website suggests the license would be “no less” than $10 a year, and would “enhance angling opportunities and support management of key species.”
- The DEC enacted a similar fee in 2009, but it was repealed in 2011 by an act of the State Legislature.
Steve Witthuhn, a Montauk charterboat captain, said he’d support the license only if he knew the money was going to go back into programs to benefit the fishery.
“Having a saltwater license could be helpful to my business," said Witthuhn, who sits on the DEC’s Marine Resources Advisory Council. "But if it goes into a general fund and they misuse our saltwater license program, I would oppose it.” He said the DEC has an “uphill climb” to win back the trust of many anglers to support the license.
It's not the first time the state has tested the recreational licensing waters. The DEC enacted one in 2009, but it was repealed in 2011 by an act of the State Legislature.
Assemb. Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor), one of the lawmakers who led the repeal effort, said he would oppose any effort to bring it back.
"This ill-considered idea was last on the table after the Great Recession when New York State was searching for revenue to balance the state budget," Thiele said. It's "no accident that this is again being raised when a state budget deficit is on the horizon. New Yorkers pay enough in taxes already. Fishing on the East End is considered a birthright. A fee to go fishing is considered a violation of that right."
The DEC said concerns that the fee might be used for non-angler purposes were unfounded.
"Any potential license revenue would be in addition to New York State’s existing and robust support of the recreational fishing industry and with the potential to help supplement these resources to further expand opportunities and ecological protections," DEC spokesman John Salka wrote. In presentations to fishing groups, the DEC has noted that it has a force of only 10 officers to police more than 2,700 miles of coastline, and that the fee could help beef up that force.
Salka said the fee could generate between $5 million and $20 million annually, which he said includes both state license sales and "additional federal funding" that could come as a result of the state requiring the license. He declined to say what New York would charge, but noted the average cost of the licenses in other states ranges from $5 to $25 for residents, and up to $150 for nonresidents.
After lawmakers rejected the license in 2011, the DEC turned to a fishing "registry," requiring that local recreational fishers register with the agency annually, at no cost. The registry is required for saltwater anglers ages 16 and older but isn’t required for those who fish on a licensed charterboat or partyboat. Unregistered anglers can be fined up to $250 for first-time violations, the DEC said.
Just under 400,000 people registered between 2021 and 2022, down sharply from the nearly 500,000 who registered in 2012, according to DEC figures. The federal government estimates New York has around 1 million saltwater anglers.
On the DEC's recently launched survey page, the agency notes that New York is one of three U.S. coastal states (along with New Jersey and Hawaii) that do not have a fee-based license for saltwater fishing (23 do, the DEC says). Revenue from the license would “enhance high-quality recreational saltwater fishing.” The survey is anonymous, the DEC says.
The survey asks respondents how they’d prefer the revenue from the new license be used, including for increased fishing access, support of the state’s artificial reef program, strengthening law enforcement to “ensure compliance with fishing rules,” increasing education, enhancing shoreline and marine habitat, and conducting fisheries research.
Ross Squire, president of the New York Coalition for Recreational Fishing, which represents anglers, said support for the proposal will come down to the strength of the language in any proposed legislation. "I think that if the DEC uses the money the way the public wants the money to be used, it could be a very good thing," Squire said, But, he acknowledged, "I'm hearing real skepticism in the marketplace that the funds won't be used by the DEC to support saltwater anglers."
The survey can be taken at on.ny.gov/swlsurvey.
More information about the existing registry is at dec.ny.gov/permits/54950.html.