The newly passed New York State budget has eliminated the saltwater fishing license fee, according to State Sen. Kenneth LaValle, R-Port Jefferson.
A three-year moratorium on the fee was included in the 2011-12 state budget. That fee has now been abolished altogether.
"For many in our region, fishing is a way of life," LaValle said in a statement. "Mandating a license placed a burden on individuals and families who have fished our local waters for generations. I voted against the license law and fee when it was part of the 2009 budget and I'm happy to see the demise of what was essentially a hidden tax."
Anglers age 16 and older who want to fish for migratory fish from the sea, including striped bass, hickory shad, blueback herring, and alewife, will still need to register. Fishing in state waters — up to 3 miles off the coast — would also require a permit from state's marine fishing registration. The registrations are used in the National Marine Fisheries Service, which measures fishing activity, sets quotas, and determines the seasons.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation could not be reached for comment.
Previously, the towns of Southampton, East Hampton, Shelter Island, Brookhaven, Southold, Huntington and Oyster Bay won a lawsuit against the state after it imposed the fee; the judge's December 2010 decision said towns have jurisdiction to govern fishing in their own tidal waters as per colonial-era land grants ("patents"). The state eventually issued more than $1 million in refunds to recreational fishers and charter boat operators who had paid the fee.
Not everyone said the abolishment of the license fee was a good move. Eric Huner of East Setauket, who runs private fishing charter excursions, said it helped the state Department of Environmental Conservation in its ability to enforce fishing rules
"There [are] plenty of people out there that are taking fish illegally, whether it be through ignorance of the law or deliberate poaching," he said. "People need to feel the presence of an authority that cares about its long term fishery and is willing to check people to make sure they understand current regulations and to also catch selfish people take illegal fish."
Huner said it is unreasonable to believe that an organization as large as the DEC can be entirely funded through other sources of revenue.
"All fisherman, me included, should make a small contribution — 'saltwater license' — and feel good that the money will go toward an organization that wants to provide long term sustainable fisheries," he said. "The system is not perfect, there will be some waste, people will question the data, but progress toward stronger, sustainable fisheries is the objective."
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