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Critics rally against state fishing licenses

Capt. Bob Rochetta, who heads the North Fork

Capt. Bob Rochetta, who heads the North Fork Captains Association, holds up his fishing license during a news conference in Mattituck, NY, to urge repeal of a new state license for saltwater sports fisherman, imposed to help close a budget deficit. (September 26, 2009.) Credit: Newsday/Photo by Ed Betz

With the deadline this week for purchasing the state's new saltwater fishing licenses, three dozen politicians, fishermen and others rallied Saturday at the edge of Mattituck Creek against what they characterized as an Albany money grab.

Starting Thursday, all recreational anglers age 16 or older seeking "migratory fish from the sea" will be required to pay $10 for annual licenses. More than 250,000 state residents could be affected, mostly on Long Island and in New York City. In addition, operators of commercial charter boats will see current annual license fees boosted to $400 from $250.

Saltwater fees are among the state's new fishing, hunting and trapping charges signed into law in the spring by Gov. David A. Paterson, a Democrat, as part of efforts to close a recession-driven budget gap.

Saturday, the Republican rally organizers raised the specter of teenagers fined for fishing from family docks without licenses. Some threatened a lawsuit, contending that Colonial-era grants of water rights give towns sole jurisdiction over such matters.

"People should be able to go out there and drop a pole in the water and snapper-fish this time of year without worrying about somebody handing them a ticket," said Dave Bergen, a Southold Town trustee who is running for re-election. Trustees regulate use of town-controlled coastal waters and wetlands in the East End.

In Albany, aides to Paterson say the new licenses are intended to fulfill federal rules requiring creation of a National Saltwater Angler Registry, part of wildlife management efforts. Aides add that recreational fishermen here would have to register with the federal government in the absence of a state registry, and that any future fees charged by a U.S. program would go to Washington.

Matt Anderson, a Paterson spokesman, said new license revenue would ensure funding for state marine resources.

What angers some fishing enthusiasts is that much of the new money will pay for operations of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, formerly covered by the state's general fund. Critics would rather see fee revenue go to fisheries management.

"This money is going to go to new offices," said one boat owner, Jack Valenti of Mastic, who showed up for the rally, identifying himself as a political independent.

Another irritant for anglers: Initial licenses will cover Thursday through Dec. 31. After that, new licenses will have to be purchased for 2010. Bill proposals filed in Albany by both Democrats and Republicans would either abolish saltwater licenses or extend the purchase deadline to Jan. 1.

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