State Legislature set to repeal saltwater fishing license

The New York State Legislature will repeal a saltwater fishing license enacted in 2009 and successfully fought in court by East End towns.

New York State assemblymen Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor and Dan Losquadro of Shoreham reported Thursday that an agreement had been reached during state budget negotiations to repeal the license and instead establish a registration requirement to meet a federal mandate to track certain species of fish.

According to the budget agreement, the registration will be guaranteed to be free for the next two years, and those who already purchased lifetime licenses will be granted a refund minus the fee for the past year. To officially repeal the state license, the agreement must be ratified within the 2011-2012 state budget, which is expected to be approved by April 1.

The recreational marine fishing license was established as part of the 2009 state budget, and was set to be implemented by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on October 1, 2009. The day before enactment, the Town of Shelter Island joined Southampton and East Hampton towns in obtaining a State Supreme Court stay against the enforcement of the law; they later won an injunction.

Southold, Brookhaven, Huntington and Oyster Bay joined the original three towns on the suit, charging that the law establishing the license violated their control of local waters and their residents’ colonial patent rights to fish them. In December 2010, Judge Patrick A. Sweeney ruled in favor of the towns, supporting their patent rights and finding that a federal law requiring a registry of fishing data did not justify a fee-based license. The licenses cost $10 per year for all anglers age 16 or older.

The DEC filed an appeal of the ruling, which is pending in state court, according to Shelter Island Town Attorney Laury Dowd. She said Friday that in light of anticipated legislative action abolishing the license, the DEC commissioner may decide to drop the appeal.

Mr. Thiele supported the East End towns’ legal fight and also attempted to repeal the license during past legislative sessions. “The idea of a saltwater fishing license was ill-conceived from the outset,” He said in a press release. “Not only was it a tax on one of the fundamental rights that Long Island residents have had since colonial times, but it was a burden to the recreational fishing industry at a time when the recession was taking its toll on the local economy.”

“The saltwater-fishing fee targeted the livelihood of Long Island’s sport fishermen and had a negative impact on our region’s tourism industry,” stated Mr. Losquadro. “I am pleased that this regionally biased fee is being terminated and that those individuals who purchased lifetime marine licenses will be refunded.”