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Virginia saltwater anglers are facing a registry

Last week I received a press release that literally made my jaw drop. What I read stunned me, but I guess I should have seen it coming. Many recreational saltwater anglers in Virginia may not be aware of the fact that the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act required that states come up with a way to get angler and fisheries harvest data for their state. Delaware has a FIN or Fisheries Identification Number requirement of their anglers and other states have other means to collecting data. Virginia has supposedly done surveys at docks  (I have never seen such a survey, nor have I talked to anyone who was surveyed at the dock) and some clubs have begun registering their catches online. However, Virginia has never really had a consistent way to get a good, solid harvest figure for sport fish such as striped bass, sea bass or river herring.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act has really put Virginia in a pickle and the result of the required data/registry is going to impact all of us who wet a line in Virginia saltwater starting in 2011. If Virginia chose not to come up with a registry the federal government would require Virginia saltwater anglers to pay a $15-$25 fee to the National Marine Fisheries Service on top of the state license fee which now stands at $12.50. Although the data that will be collected will reportedly give federal fisheries managers more assistance in managing all species the whole row supposedly started with striped bass management.
The registry, in this writer’s opinion, is just another example of the federal government demanding that states do something “or else” while never funding the demand.
However, there is some hope. Senator Ralph Northam (D-Norfolk) is pushing legislation to help ease the pain. According to a press release from the senator’s office, the proposed legislation would require all saltwater anglers to purchase a saltwater license. This may not seem like a good thing, but given the fact that the federal government has already reauthorized the act and the requirement is pretty much set in stone (unless we had our representatives really cause a ruckus) the next best thing is what Senator Northam, who is an avid angler himself, has come up with.
 “This is a common sense solution to dealing with a difficult Federal Government regulation,” offered Northam.  “I understand that NMFS needs these data to improve fisheries management, but allowing a doubling or tripling of the current license fee would be unacceptable.”
Interestingly enough, the Virginia Coastal Conservation Association (VCCA) is in support of the proposed legislation too. The VCCA also noted that the cost to recreational anglers will be less with the Northam legislation and overall it could put more money in the Recreational Fishing Development Fund.
Here is where we are going to feel the pain. The license exemptions that currently exist for pier and shore anglers are going to be a thing of the past come 2011. The recreational boat license will also have to go. The boat license is likely the biggest sore point. Currently charter boats can license the entire boat and anglers fishing off the boat are covered because they have to submit catch data for every trip. This will not change.
However, the Potomac River Fisheries Commission (PRFC) boat license that covers anyone fishing will also disappear. There are a lot of people in our readership area that use this license. That license has been very popular and useful for anglers taking guests, potential new anglers or visiting family out on their boat for a pleasure ride mixed with some fishing. The boat license from PRFC covers anglers in saltwater all over the Chesapeake Bay and the tidal rivers in both Maryland and Virginia below the demarcation lines. Now each angler would need a license even if they were fishing only one or two times on vacation while visiting family. The federal mandate will definitely impact the occasional angler.
Another really big point is the exemption for senior citizens would be discontinued. Senator Northam hopes it will be discounted to something akin to $5 to cover administrative fees.  
“As an avid fisherman, I will be sad to see these exemptions go,” Northam said in the press release. “It is especially tough to lose the boat license, but the reality of the situation is that if we keep it, everyone who fishes from my boat will have to pay more to the Feds than they would for an individual license anyway.”  
If there is an upside to the legislation, it is that up to $2 million may be added to the Sport Fish Restoration Act funds in Virginia alone. These funds are distributed to states based on the number of anglers they can certify as licensed. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service feels that for each additional angler that is licensed Virginia may rake in $10 more. It seems odd that we will be requiring to pay our seniors at least $5 to fish to meet federal requirements but then the feds will turn around and give us $10 back. The federal government sure is tough to figure out!

Mark Fike
 

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