Anglers surf fishing before sunset at McCabe's Beach in Southold...

Anglers surf fishing before sunset at McCabe's Beach in Southold on Oct. 18, 2022. Credit: Randee Daddona

New York regulators are facing waves of opposition to a proposal to restart a recreational saltwater fishing license in the state, as anglers expressed wariness the state will spend the anticipated millions of dollars in new revenue as promised.

At a meeting of the Marine Resources Advisory Council of the state Department of Conservation in Kings Park on Tuesday, a state Department of Environmental Conservation official released results of a survey of about 22,000 state anglers, the majority of whom (56%) said they are opposed to the idea. A separate informal survey of bait-and-tackle shops conducted by MRAC member Melissa Dearborn found all 18 respondents also were opposed.

Jim Gilmore, the former marine-division director for the DEC who is working on the license project on a part-time basis, noted that the 22,000 anglers who responded were only a small portion of the approximately 400,000 to 600,000 New York anglers who could have weighed in on the decision. The license would be more than $10 and be used to support a range of new and existing programs, including hiring more law-enforcement officers, the DEC has said.

Gilmore stressed that DEC and the administration of Gov. Kathy Hochul haven’t finalized any plan and that wording of any potential legislation about a license would assure money for the saltwater license program would be earmarked for programs that would benefit the saltwater fishing industry.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • New York regulators are facing opposition to a proposal to restart a recreational saltwater fishing license in the state.

  • The license would be more than $10 and be used to support a range of new and existing programs, including hiring more law-enforcement officers, DEC has said.
  • Anglers are expressing concerns that the state will spend the anticipated millions of dollars in new revenue as promised to improve the saltwater fishing industry.

“It’s going to be the legislation that’s going to direct how this is going to be done,” said Gilmore.

MRAC members, who represent the Long Island recreational and commercial fishing communities, were decidedly mixed on the proposal.

“I just don’t think it’s going to work here,” said Joe Paradiso, owner of Nautic Lady Fishing in Greenport, who told the DEC officials: “You have a branding issue to overcome that is going to be very difficult.”

Last month, Long Island's New York State Senate Republican delegation sent a letter to Hochul requesting that she reject the proposal. "This is not the first time this fee idea has reared its ugly head," the senators wrote. The DEC enacted a saltwater license in 2009, but it was repealed in 2011 by an act of the State Legislature, amid widespread opposition to the fee.

MRAC members and others said years of draconian fishing rules and concerns that funds from the license would be diverted to the state’s general fund are among the major fears.

The DEC in making its case for the new license for the past several months, said the $10 million to $15 million in new annual revenue would improve fishing opportunities, fisheries management and law enforcement, fund artificial reefs and new piers and boost agency communication.

The agency noted New York is one of only three coastal states that don’t have such a license for recreational saltwater fishing (New York has one for freshwater), and Gilmore said most coastal states he contacted as part of his survey found the license worked well. “We’re trying to improve things,” he told the approximately two dozen people at the meeting Tuesday. “We’re not trying to charge them to put them out of business.”

Laura Lee Captain Joe DeVito, representing the Captree Boatman’s Association, took comfort from the indication that the state would not require passengers of partyboats and charterboats to get a saltwater license. Those 16 and under and 65 and older also would be exempted.

Pat Augustine, a former commissioner for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission representing New York State, said legislation should include a sunset provision that would suspend the law if the state and DEC didn't comply with its provisions.

The state maintains a recreational fishing registry that is required of anglers, but anglers aren’t charged to register. Just under 400,000 anglers registered in 2022, more than 350,000 of whom are New York residents. The federal government estimated from a survey that there are about 1 million recreational saltwater anglers in the state.

Commercial fishermen already pay for licenses and permits in the state, generating over $1 million a year. John German, president of the Long Island Sound Lobstermen’s Association, said he hoped fees paid by commercial captains that are used to fund the recreational community are returned if the new license takes effect.

But it's unclear whether state lawmakers will get behind any bill. Assemb. Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor) said his office has been “swamped” by Long Island colleagues who oppose the idea. Most opposition relates to the concern that the state would “raid” the fund for nonfishing purposes.

“The checkered history of raiding dedicated funds in Albany has been a problem,” he said in an email. “When it comes to dedicated funds, there are more raiders in Albany than an Indiana Jones movie.”

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