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Officials Oppose Saltwater Fishing License

Posted on 26 June 2009

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Starting this fall, licenses will be required to enjoy saltwater fishing in New York State, a proposal that town trustees from East Hampton, Southampton and Southold, officials from Shelter Island and local state lawmakers opposed at a joint press conference on Friday in Sag Harbor.

The proposal was adopted as a part of the state budget, which will take effect in October. The marine fishing license, will cost residents $10 annually, non-residents required to pay $15, will be a requirement for anyone who wants to engage in saltwater fishing in the state. The state proposal also offers a seven-day license, $8 for residents and $10 for non-residents as well as one-day passes, which cost $4 for residents and $5 for non-residents. Residents and non-residents alike can purchase a lifetime marine fishing license for $150. Combination lifetime licenses, for both freshwater and saltwater fishing, can be bought for $450.

Charter fishing boats will need to purchase a $400 license each year, which will cover all their customers.

According to New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., the state expects to take in $3 million in revenue as a result of the license. That revenue is earmarked for the state’s Conservation Fund and will not specifically benefit any marine fisheries programs or the region of the state most affected by the legislation – Long Island, said Thiele.

On Friday, surrounded by trustees from across the East End, Thiele said the license proposal should have been a freestanding piece of legislation, rather than a proposal adopted with the state budget, which both he and state senator Kenneth P. LaValle voted against.

LaValle and Thiele both have sponsored bills that would repeal the state license and fees, although subcommittees in the state assembly and senate are still reviewing the legislation.

Since the budget’s adoption, Thiele said he had been fielding calls from town trustees across the East End, who like Thiele, view the license proposal as an initiative by the state to collect revenues in the face of a mounting deficit – revenues he predicted would do nothing but cover existing costs in the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation rather than be used to better the state’s marine and coastal districts.

Thiele said he would not necessarily oppose the license if revenues from it were specifically earmarked towards the marine and coastal districts in New York.

“In fact, I will make the prediction tight now that this money will be used to fund the existing positions in the fisheries part of the DEC,” said Thiele. “We won’t see anything new form this. It is simply, as we say, a revenue generator.”

Under similar laws, the state has required licenses for hunting, trapping and freshwater fishing for many years, and according to Thiele, the federal government’s National Marine Fisheries Service will require saltwater fisherman register with them in an effort to collect data on fisheries across the United States. According to Thiele, the federal registry program has no provision that mandates states to impose license requirements or fees.

“They are depending on our town clerk’s to sell the licenses, depending on our local recreational fishing businesses to sell the license and really this is something no more than a revenue grab by the State of New York,” said Thiele, voicing concern that local municipalities may be overrun with license applications, which could cost them more money to process than they will be able to collect back from the state.

Ken Morse, who owns Tight Lines Tackle in Sag Harbor, told Thiele at Friday’s press conference that he refuses to sell state licenses after seeing little in the way of a return for the service, despite having to spend an inordinate amount of time filing paperwork with the state.

In addition to Thiele’s position that the license and fee will be a new tax on Long Islanders meant to benefit an entire state in financial duress, he said first and foremost his opposition derives from a belief in the public’s right to the use of the waterfront – a right protected by town trustees across the East End. Additionally, said Thiele, during the throes of an economic downturn, the license fee has the potential to adversely impact a region dependent on recreational tourist activities like saltwater fishing.

“Fishing is a relatively inexpensive thing you can do with your family and we’re adding expense to it,” said Thiele.

Southampton Town Trustees joined members of the East Hampton Town Trustees and Southold Trustees in unity against the license proposal, along with representatives from the Shelter Island Town Board, which serves its community as trustees. The trustees charged the license fee could fly in the face of rights granted to their boards in the 1600s as a part of patents that empowered them with the responsibility to ensure public access to the waterfront, specifically for the purposes of fishing. The same patents also give town residents the right to hunt.

Southampton Town Trustee Eric Shultz noted Friday’s press conference was one of the first times all four patent boards had convened in opposition to an issue.

“We come together to send a clear message to government that these rights we possess are still valid and we demand recognition,” said Shultz, who later said the trustee boards would begin to discuss their options in opposition to the bill, which may include legal action against the state.

“It is something that should not be,” said Southampton Town Trustee Fred Havemeyer. “And my question is if we have a saltwater fishing license are we going to have a saltwater swimming license next. Where does it end?”

“I can say for the trustees, this may be the straw that broke the monkey’s back because we are all here together on this one issue,” said East Hampton Town Trustee Diane McNally, adding it was her hope the trustees would continue to work together on issues that affect all the boards.

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