« Going camping solo without Solo | Main | Four oyster hearings: Another shell job »

June 18, 2010

When "free" isn't free

So New York lawmakers and leaders of the Recreational Fishing Alliance are drooling all over themselves because the state Senate passed a bill to repeal its $10 saltwater fishing license and replace it with a free angler registry.

As Bugs Bunny would say, "What a bunch of maroons."

Lucky for us, they put their stupidity in a press release for all to see.

"Residents should be able to partake in recreational saltwater fishing without being forced to purchase a license to do so," said state Sen. Brian Foley (D-Irresponsible), the sponsor of the bill.

"A total repeal of licensing fee requirements is one step closer to reality thanks to Senator Foley's efforts," said U.S. Sen Charles Schumer (D-Pandering). "Now we need the Assembly to act immediately to keep fishing free."

"We're halfway there, and if we can now get the Assembly to understand this saltwater user fee is simply another unfair tax with misappropriated funds, perhaps we can see this unreasonable burden on the New York recreational fishing community lifted once and for all," added Jim Hutchinson, of the Recreational Fishing Alliance.

Wrong, wrong and wrong.

Let's see, we have a state senator from a bankrupt state and a U.S. senator from a bankrupt nation both saying people shouldn't pay for what they use. And we have a group paid for by the fishing industry and based in New Jersey (busted budget, busted government) applauding irresponsible fiscal actions.

Any wonder why we're in the fiscal mess we're in?

Fishing isn't free. Sure maybe it was in the good old days, when wagon trains rolled west, women cleaned clothes by beating them on rocks by ye old stream and everyone lost their teeth by the time they were 30.

And during those free and carefree fishing days, we overfished everything in sight.

Today, responsible fishing requires science-based regulations to protect species and the gear and manpower to back up those rules.

“The biggest challenge we face is the fight to reform and bring common sense and sound science into the fisheries management process, says James Donofrio, RFA founder, in a statement on the RFA website.

Last time I looked, that science stuff wasn't free.

Running an angler registry isn't free, either. Maybe Schumer can get BP to pay for it.

The license/registry is required by the federal government so that scientists can accurately assess how many fish and what types of fish are being caught each year. Maryland didn't have a saltwater license, so the General Assembly this year--in the 11th hour of the session--approved one. Instead of the money going to the federal government next year to pay for the registry, the money will stay in Maryland and be used on Fisheries Service projects.

That's being responsible.

Why do I care if Foley, Schumer and others are in a New York stupid state of mind?

Because Long Island anglers share migratory striped bass with the rest of us on the Eastern Seaboard. If N.Y. fisheries regulators are fiscally hamstrung, that isn't a good thing for us in Maryland.

Schumer complained that the saltwater fishing license approved last year "places far too great a burden on Long Island anglers and charter boats who are already struggling day to day."

Ummm, Chuck, you want fly fishermen in the Adirondacks or bass fishermen on Lake Champlain to pay for a SALTWATER license?

And $10 is a burden on someone who owns a boat on Long Island? Really?

Sadly, it's just election-year pandering from Foley, a Long Island lawmaker who could easily be out of a job in November, and Schumer, who needs the spotlight like oxygen.

Send in the clowns. Don't bother, they're here.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 11:45 AM | | Comments (13)


What's "wrong" with our comments Ms. Thompson? The state promised saltwater anglers that they'd implement a saltwater license with all fees dedicated to a marine account.

Once the license was implemented, they pulled the rug out from under the community, offloaded salaries, and sent large portions of the $$$ away from the marine account and into an upstate run 'general' account. Before you go calling everyone out for being "stupid" and "maroons" perhaps you should spend more time researching issues and interviewing people in person as opposed to rip & read journalism and grandstanding from your ideological pulpit. Our phones work if you ever want to actually talk about fisheries issues someday.

So, why didn't you work on getting the money redirected to its original account instead of throwing out the baby with the bath water?
Too hard? Not enough political cover for Sen. Foley in his race to retain his seat? Not enough of a grandstanding platform for Sen. Schumer? Not enough chest beating for RFA?
I agree with CCA New York in its opposition to repeal:
And, by the way, if you had done any research yourself, you would have noticed that my last name does not have a "p" in it.

I can't stop laughing at this fuss over $10!

Having been married to a Chesapeake Bay boat guy (MSSA member), I was constantly stunned by the co$t of everything involved with boating and fishing. Ten dollars is nothing, nothing, nothing next to the price of every single thing involved in boating and sportfishing on the Chesapeake and, frankly, I can't even imagine what the cost of boat ownership on Long Island must be. I think that if we were to see the cost of licensing and no-frills marina fees in the New York/New Jersey area written down, it would take everyone's breath away.

Ten Dollars! Not even a drop in the bucket!

What I find more amazing is that you actually get paid to write. Really?? Someone who looks to protect consumers and residents is irresonsible? Really?? D you even know how much money was going to be generated from this fee, and more importantly, where the money was going? Do your homework, and then maybe you can write something a bit more accurate.

What I'm saying, Really??, is that nothing is free.
New York state is, for all practical purposes, out of money.
So in their "wisdom," they eliminate a revenue source--the license fee--BUT DON'T REPLACE IT WITH ANYTHING.
And there's no money in the general fund to pay for marine cops, biologists and the like--the things that protect our fish.
How is that good for the consumer and resident?
And, by the way, the New York state Senate, in a John Kerry-esque moment, was for the license fee before it was against the license fee. I guess it being and election year had something to do with that.
The license fee must have been worth something pretty good if politicians were working to siphon off money for other purposes, eh? That must explain the loophole that allowed it to happen.
Recreational Fishing Alliance opposes state saltwater licenses.
That's a real crowd pleaser. But it doesn't explain how you pay for services rendered.

Oh, and by the way, Really???, according to the latest NOAA statistics, New York has 900,000 saltwater anglers, the 5th highest number in the country.
At $10 a head...oh, you do the math.

Ms. Thomson, NOAA might think there’s nearly a million saltwater anglers in NY, but that’s precisely why NRC found the NOAA recreational harvest data “fatally flawed” and mandated a new federal registry to get a more accurate count of the number of saltwater anglers in every state. The US Fish & Wildlife Service actually estimates that there are 291,000 saltwater anglers in New York – while the latest saltwater license sales information is showing less than 100,000 saltwater anglers have bought licenses for the 2010 season in New York. So where would money come from to pay for marine services? How about taxes - U.S. Fish and Wildlife statistics point to New York retail spending on saltwater sportfishing to account for over $373 million in annual tackles sales. You saying the state couldn’t afford $2.5 million on DEC salaries out of that taxable revenue, and instead should use saltwater license sales to fund this exclusively? And what about raises? New hires? Benefits? Access and dredging? What about the 10% excise tax built into all tackle at the manufacturers side which is passed along to consumer and contributed to the federal government each year? If a cigarette tax or a soda tax is designed to reduce participation in this type of conduct, why would anyone think that a user tax on saltwater fishing would have some different outcome? And if you reduce participation in the future, won’t it lead to reduced license sales? And with fewer fishermen, won’t you have less taxable revenue? This isn’t about hardcore fishermen like you and me - that’s the 10% of the angling population (those who theoretically catch 90% of the fish). So what about the 90% of the population you would drive out of the fishery, as is being evidenced continually in the state of California? Those are the numbers that really add up!

Why should saltwater anglers be allowed to fish for free and freshwater anglers have to pay for the privilege?
And make no mistake, fishing isn't a right, it's a privilege.
It's a pay to play world.
I would submit to you that the reason for the declining number of anglers has less to do with the price of a license and more to do with:
1) Time constraints
2) Other hobbies
3) Access
4) Mentoring
5) Water quality
Outdoors participation numbers are down almost across the board, from golf to hunting to camping. Fishing is no different.
Maryland saw a drop in license sales after it raised the fees, but sales have been increasing.
While on the subject of Maryland, as I'm sure you know, the state is requiring coastal anglers to buy a sportfishing license to meet the registry requirement.
Know how many complaints there have been?
None, because everyone understands pay to play.
As for the NOAA numbers, you may be right that they are off. But I can tell you that U.S. Fish and Wildlife numbers are way off, too, in several states and categories.
Finally, New York has an $8 billion budget hole, it can't afford Jack.
You drive a car, you buy a license. You drive a boat, you buy a license. You hunt, you buy a license.
No reason saltwater anglers should get a pass.

Easy question to answer. First of all, freshwater fishermen don’t have to deal with trap lines, fish pots, high-fliers and gill nets. (There's no market gunning either, so that answers the hunt question too).

Saltwater anglers have to share coastal resources & quotas with commercial fishermen, freshwater anglers do not. Also, there are no saltwater hatcheries; it really wouldn’t make much sense anyway, since saltwater fish migrate across coastal boundaries. While freshwater fishermen typically enjoy a barrel of fish which never migrate to other states, coastal fishermen must share fish allocations of migratory fish with nearby coastal states.

The public trust doctrine would not identify fishing as a “privilege” either, it is absolutely a right. These are public resources with federally managed coastal species, a state license does not give a saltwater angler any additional rights to access.

Folks tell me that when you have a license, you get better science and improved access – ask the Florida anglers about their red snapper fishery, or the Virginia coastal fishermen about the black sea bass closure.

It’s a funding plan, and that’s all well and good – but you gotta ask the question, “what’s really in it for me?”

I understand your arguments, but they don't hold water when a state offloads salaries and misappropriates funds. NY's license was a broken plan based on broken promises, and the majority of 'taxpayers' want it scrapped, not fixed.

They asked stakeholders for their blessing - once they got it, they trampled all over the rights of 291,000 saltwater anglers. Saltwater anglers got jacked - we don't care how big the budget hole, it was an act of unjustice.

If fighting to repeal an unjust tax is wrong, so be it. RFA membership has asked us to fight on their behalf, and we will continue to do so.

I didn't realize anglers deserved a discount for having to deal with other user groups. So I shouldn't have to pay when I go shad fishing at Deer Creek and anglers are elbow to elbow and lines get tangled.
And when I'm on Loch Raven and a kayaker runs over my line, I shouldn't have to have a license?
I guess motorists in gridlocked cities shouldn't have to get driver's licenses, either.
If the New York license was badly worded and trust was violated, it was done by the same Albany bozos you now applaud.
I see you didn't bother to explain how it is that Maryland coastal anglers bought into paying for a license next year.
The answer, Jim, is that Maryland anglers are responsible. And they get value for their licenses.
"What's in it for me?" is oh, so New York.
No wonder the budget hole is $8 billion. Everyone expects something for nothing.
Finally, the license isn't a tax, although that works to rally Tea Party types. It is a license no different than a driver's license.


I am a little late to the party you are having with Jim, but not late to the subject matter. You could not be more on target with your comments. Keep up the good work!

Dear Jim,

There is nothing in the public trust doctrine that grants an absolute right to fish.

Public Trust doctrine is rooted in the principle of common property – that certain things; the air, water, oceans, and beaches were common property, thus incapable of PRIVATE ownership and were dedicated to the sole use of the “public.” Under English common law, this principle evolved into the public trust doctrine, which holds that the sovereign held title to navigable waterways and submerged lands, not in a proprietary capacity, but rather as trustee, for the benefit of the people for uses such as commerce, navigation and fishing (the 3 being those considered “traditional” uses).

Beaches have generally been at the forefront of the legal issues dealing with the Public Trusts doctrine. Time and time again the Supreme Court has ruled that the State (And I am talking about States, not the federal government) hold title to tidal (and submerged lands) in trust for the people of the State so that the people may “enjoy” it for the uses of navigation, commerce over them, and fishing, all free from obstruction or interference from PRIVATE parties. Traditionally, the public trust was limited to water-related commerce, navigation, and fishing, but the Courts have been slowly expanding the doctrine’s use, and today the right of the public to use the land or navigable waters for bathing, swimming, boating, and general recreational purposes are all solidly within the doctrine’s sphere. Likewise, the preservation of the lands, wildlife, habitat, natural resources (ei fish!) all fall under the public trust doctrine and that the government may legitimately regulate for current and future generations.

Being from N.J., the best example of this is the ability of towns to charge a fee for use of the beaches. I may hate the fee (and I do!), but its well within (in this case) the local town's right to charge for this access and institute other reasonable regulations and/or restrictions.

In any case, the key here is private interests and/or ownership. You're free to use the PTD in an argument against catch shares, but please, don't invent legal fictions to try to bolster your point.

Such fuss is not just about $ cost charter boats $400 for that license for a 3 month period at the end of 2009...when the fishing season was just about over!!!!! Yes, it is a "cost of doing business" but add it to all the other "costs" on hard-working fishermen (for whom it is livelihood rather than pleasure) and it does make one angry. Typical of so many government interventions, tax the lower paid workers to pay the government to employ higher paid workers to do all the paperwork keeping track of it all.....where's the fairness?

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Candus Thomson
In a world of paper vs. plastic and candy mint vs. breath mint, my early memories involved a debate about the merits of freshwater vs. saltwater.

On the one hand, a great uncle’s fishing cabin on the Susquehanna River beckoned, but so did family gatherings on the Jersey Shore.

The correct answer, thankfully, was, “both.”

As The Sun’s outdoors writer for more than a decade, I’ve fished across Maryland in one day, hiked the width of the state in one hour, camped overnight in the median of I-95 to experience the wildlife between the fast lanes and chased mountain bikers in a 24-hour marathon race.

Those are some of the highlights. I’ve also fallen in a raging Gunpowder River during a trout survey (photo available upon request), had a shark spill its guts on my clothes and been stuck in a sub-freezing Vermont wilderness with men armed with flintlocks and hatchets, shuffling along on ancient wooden snowshoes.

And, in my travels I’ve met lots of you, who share a love of the outdoors and the good times and mishaps that go along with it.

Reader photos

Share your outdoors photos
Upload your best photos of the outdoors to our reader photo gallery
Sign up for FREE local sports alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local sports text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
Most Recent Comments
Stay connected