By Capt. John McMurray
Governor Patterson’s proposed 2009-10 budget bill includes a provision to establish a recreational salt water fishing license. Indeed such a license is long overdue and if properly administered, we should support it.
Such a pay-to-play system would immediately put a concrete figure on the number of saltwater anglers in New York. Not only would this improve the accuracy of recreational fishing data used to determine catch limits, it would give anglers much needed clout amongst decisionmakers.
More importantly, however, is the dire need for funds to support New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation Bureau of Marine Resources. The Marine Bureau has long been understaffed and overworked, without the basic funding needed to understand and reverse the decline in populations of winter flounder, weakfish, shad, river herring and other species important to recreational and commercial fishing. In Brooklyn and Western Nassau, where I run my charter business, poachers operate in broad daylight because the state doesn’t have the funding for Environmental Conservation officers to adequately police the area.
If New York does not implement a saltwater licensing system, a federal mandate will require that anglers pay a “saltwater registry” fee in 2011, and the funds generated will go directly into the federal treasury. A state license effectively keeps the money in state, and if property overseen, restricts it to the managing agencies that deal with fisheries. Furthermore, such a license would dramatically increase New York’s share of federal matching funds generated by the federal tax on all marine and fishing products.
Yet, there are problems with the way the current license provision is written. It does not provide for exclusive funding of the Marine Bureau. The language of the bill specifically excludes all of the revenues from the license from the dedicated marine resources account, and instead relegates them to the general coffers of the Conservation Fund, where they may be spent on any fish and wildlife project anywhere in the state.
The Conservation Fund is currently suffering through a period of reduced revenues and has less money available to fund existing programs. That raises the distinct possibility that most, if not all, of the salt water license revenues raised will be spent upstate on freshwater stocking and stream access programs, or to manage deer and upland game, leaving the marine resources and saltwater anglers of the state no better off than they would have been if no license had been imposed.
While there are many arguments for a saltwater license in NY, the most compelling is the need to provide adequate and reliable funding for marine resource management and for enhanced law enforcement in the marine district. Yet, by specifically excluding license revenues from the marine resources account, the current proposal raises the likelihood that the license will fail in its most important purpose.
While I firmly believe that salt water anglers should do their fair share to support the management of marine resources, asking us to pay for upstate budget shortfalls while marine resources remain underfunded is unjust. There is still time to amend the license bill so that the funds are earmarked for marine resources. New York’s saltwater anglers should be encouraging their local representatives to insist on such changes.