North Fork Outdoors/Martin Garrell: Talking licenses, fees, fisheries management

Over the Fourth of July weekend we wondered about summer folk and occasional anglers who travel out on the Forks for a weekend of fishing but have not signed up for the new state saltwater registry. For those “newbies” who haven’t yet been listed in the DEC’s automated licensing system or who do not possess a saltwater recreational license for 2011, purchased before the Albany repeal, the new requirement may come as quite a shock. (It’s subject to enforcement and fines.)

When we called around local shops we got steered towards the solution. Either you get registered (free) at a town hall or other licensing facility or you go online. After a couple of tries and a search, if you’re clever, you’ll finally get to Here you see options, i.e. following a link to the DEC Automated Licensing System (DECALS), or phoning 1-866-933-2257. If you’re a technophile, you’re probably O.K. with this setup.

The new mashup supposedly gets the information needed from our state to the feds so that fisheries can be better regulated down the line. And, to the delight of those who wish to starve all levels of government of revenues, there are no costs to anglers, at least for the time being. Still, wiser heads are shaking about the outcome of the bitter debate over a state saltwater recreational license as it played out during the past year (a clumsy setup, a frivolous lawsuit, and an eventual repeal by the legislature).

Fred Golofaro, longtime editor of The Fisherman, wrote an editorial in the March 31 issue that summarized some of the features sacrificed in the failure to produce a good license at the very beginning of the process, i.e., “… [funds for] marine-related fishing projects, a cap on fees … a blanket license covering private boats and their guests where guests could register free … and a fee scale for charter boats and guides based on the number of fares or clients they carry.”

In the minds of many, including this writer, one real problem with fees of any sort is dedication. If marine license revenues are dedicated to, e.g., purchase of launch sites, arrangements for beach access, upgrading of ramps, honest enforcement of regulations with care taken to avoid harassment, research into better fish management, etc., then all anglers are better off. Modest administrative costs always come with any new program, and new hires are part of the package. However, when fees are switched over to a “general fund” to make up state budget deficits, or said fees are used to cover salaries for personnel already in place, it’s no wonder that objections turn the debate into an ugly one!

Ever since the passage of the Magnuson Act some 30 years ago when real efforts at coastal fisheries management began, our recreational anglers have always felt like poor cousins on the Fisheries Management Councils. Compared to commercial interests, our input has always seemed to count for relatively little, despite our numbers. In the halls of the legislature at federal and state levels, until recently, the same situation obtained. Lately, the strong voice of the Recreational Fishing Alliance has helped somewhat.

Still, when we look at the failure to get a striped bass game fish bill through the state legislature, put a moratorium on winter flounder, or sustainably manage weakfish, we have to wonder: Why? Could this have anything to do with the need to stand up and be counted through fees, i.e., paying to play? Ace Cottrell who was behind the counter at the Port of Egypt for many years, used to tell rental skiff customers, appropriately, “No cash, no splash!”

Anti-tax, anti-fee feelings have been around the United States since the very beginning; after all, wasn’t taxation without representation one of the primary concerns of the founders? Down in Quakertown, about 40 miles north of Philadelphia, we dined last week at the Red Lion Inn (now McCoole’s) where John Fries organized a famous protest against federal property taxes imposed by John Adams (and was incarcerated until pardoned). Our young nation also went through Shays’ Rebellion in Massachusetts and resisted taxes on whiskey in western Pennsylvania before that.

Still, 235 years after the Declaration of Independence, New York is a state of more than 17 million in a country of more than 300 million. You don’t run this system without a representative government and taxes to pay for things you need. As Fred Golofaro put it near the end of his editorial: “New York is beyond broke, and if we hope to see gains in areas like fishing access, we will have to pay for it. … If taxes are the issue, I can think of a lot more taxes to get riled up over than a $10 user fee [the cost of the now defunct marine recreational license] for something I love to do.”