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Cuomo on fishing license: Keep it free

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, with from left, Assembly

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, with from left, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre). (March 27, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo appeared dockside on Freeport's Nautical Mile on Friday to announce refunds for anglers who shelled out $300,000 last year for the state's abandoned $10 saltwater fishing license fee.

This week, the governor ordered the state Department of Environmental Conservation to return the money collected last year. It has already returned some $1.3 million to those who applied for lifetime licenses. Charter fishing captains who paid the fee will receive refunds of $400 per boat, while anglers will get back $10.

The fee-based program, which funds DEC fish monitoring programs, was abandoned in the 2011-12 budget with overwhelming bipartisan support. Anglers still must apply for a license through a state registry.

"Sometimes, there still has to be things in life that are free," said Cuomo, in white slacks and blue polo shirt, accompanied by his twin daughters. He added that eliminating the fee would have a stimulating effect on the economy. "Sometimes, the best thing for government to say is, 'No.' "

The bipartisan effort to abandon the $10 fee drew wide support across Long Island and the state, although some environmental groups feared it would hobble crucial DEC fish monitoring programs.

But DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, in an interview at the event, said the state budget replaced funds the program had depended on. "It was made up for in the budget," Martens said. "We have been kept whole."

State Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) fought to repeal the fee, which drew criticism and lawsuits throughout the region.

Zeldin praised Cuomo's support on the issue, proclaiming a "new day in Albany," and suggesting Cuomo might be better suited to higher office.

Thiele said the refund "sends a real signal across the country" that New York isn't tax happy, and credited Cuomo for the idea of giving back the money.

Schumer in a statement said: "Fishing in the ocean, Sound and Great South Bay was never meant to be like driving through the midtown tunnel, with a fee to enter."

Fishing boat captains showed up in force to applaud the move.

"I think it's a great direction to head in. It really helps us out," said Michael Danon, president of Captain Lou Fleet, a Freeport charter with two boats. He will receive a refund of $800, or $400 for each boat.

Charlie Wertz, a commercial fishing captain in Freeport and chairman of the West End Fishermen's Association, said he asked Cuomo for similar help for the commercial fleet, which he said is suffering under the brunt of low quotas for vital species like fluke. "They've got to level the playing field," he said of federal regulators.

Cuomo said he planned to spend the day at Shinnecock. "There's a striper with my name on it out there, and I'm going to get it," he said.

In unrelated news, Cuomo said his office is reviewing a number of legislative measures related to the Long Island Power Authority, including legislation passed by the State Legislature to subject to regulatory review rate increases of more than 2.5 percent.

"We have a number of pieces of legislation we're reviewing," he said. "We haven't made a decision yet."

The bill was sponsored by Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) and Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

In addition to the $1.3 million already refunded to lifetime license purchasers, $80,000 will be refunded to 200 charter-boat operators and $220,000 to 23,000 anglers, the governor's office said.

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