Trustees from Southampton Town, East Hampton Town and Shelter Island filed a last minute request for a temporary restraining order yesterday afternoon, September 30, to prevent New York State from requiring for the first time anyone fishing in saltwater in these towns to start carrying a controversial new fishing license. The temporary order was approved by a judge late in the day, meaning the marine fishing license would not apply to these towns when it went into effect Thursday.
The bill requiring the marine fishing license was passed in March as part of the state budget with the state predicting revenues of $3 million. At the end of June, the state assembly tried to postpone the effective date of the license from October 1, 2009 to January 1, 2010 by way of a resolution. The state senate, however, failed to support the resolution during a special session held in early September and it failed.
Representatives from each town held a press conference on the steps of the Suffolk County Court in Riverhead yesterday afternoon. State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr., State Senator Ken LaValle and County Legislator Jay Schneiderman attended the event. Southampton Town Trustee Eric Shultz cited Southampton Town’s “Dongan Patent” as part of the trustee’s argument against the license.
The “Dongan Patents,” explained East Hampton Town Trustee Diane McNally on Friday, were created in the 17th century by King James II of England. The patents gave East Hampton and Southampton town trustees the authority to regulate and manage the common lands of their respective townships, including uses such as fishing and fowling.
Southampton Town’s website further explains that “the Dongan Patent guarantees Town Freeholder’s rights to access and use this land and its resources.”
”We wanted to create a platform to allow other towns to join us. Someone needed to start the ball rolling,” said Schultz. “Now we are going to ask other towns on Long Island to see if they want to join in with us to fight this issue.”
”I would like to see an outright repeal [of the marine fishing license],” remarked Thiele, who held a press conference in June in opposition to the new license, adding that October 1 is in the middle of the striped bass season.
Thiele explained he had received a number of phone calls from owners of local bait and tackle shops hoping to become agents of the new license. However, Thiele pointed out that the DEC already has a year-long back log of individuals seeking training to administer various licenses. These types of shops and marinas already have the authority to sell other permits, added Thiele.
Even if given the chance to sell the saltwater fishing license, some local proprietors would refuse to do so.
”I personally would never want to become an issuing officer for New York State. I don’t believe in this license. It is a huge money grab,” stated Ken Morse, owner of Tight Lines Bait and Tackle Shop in Sag Harbor.
The license would cost residents $10 and non-residents $15 per year. The DEC offers seven-day passes, priced at $8 for residents and $10 for non-residents. Day passes are available for $4 for residents and $5 for non-residents. A lifetime marine fishing license can be purchased for $150 for both locals and visitors. A dual lifetime freshwater and saltwater fishing license costs $450. In addition to individuals, charter fishing boat businesses would have to comply with the fee which will cost $400 annually. Conservation officers with the DEC will have the primary responsibility of enforcing the license, forcing anglers to keep the license on them while fishing.
“You have to carry it on you. You have to get out of the water, take off all your gear and get out the license,” explained Dan Loos, a fisherman. “My take on the license is that it is not so much inconvenient, ten dollars isn’t a big deal, but it basically amounts to extortion and taxation.”
Much of the revenue from the license is supposed to go towards bankrolling the state’s Conservation Fund. Although the Conservation Fund is the primary funding source for the Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources Program, the saltwater fishing license won’t go towards new programs for this department. The money, contended Thiele, will be used for DEC salaries.
”It doesn’t do anything to promote fishing,” added Thiele. “[The revenue] is just to back fill a budget deficit for existing expenditures.”
Others believe the funds will be devoted to enforcing the license.
“The regulations make money to pay people to enforce regulations,” said Loos. “It’s like a toll booth … and who is going to pay for it? We are going to pay for it.”
Loos further claimed that enforcing tariffs on saltwater fishing is an affront on the East End way of life and cultural traditions.
The original intent of the license, added Al Marino, who has been fishing in local salt waters for 66 years, was to track saltwater fishing activity. Marino supported this concept but is against the current incarnation of the saltwater fishing license.
”It could have been a good idea,” said Marino. “I feel that after fishing for 66 years it is my right to fish without paying for it.”