Outdoors: Uncle Sam will dip into anglers’ pockets

Call it what you wish, but if by any other name a rose is still a rose, then the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s plan to register all tidal water sport anglers is little else but a new federal tax.

The NOAA said all sport fishermen not now “licensed or registered by a state that has been exempted and want to fish in federal waters” will be required to register with them. Anglers must also register if they drop their lines in tidal waters, seeking migratory fish species, such as striped bass, shad, herring or salmon that spawn in rivers and spend their adult lives in estuaries and oceans. Recreational anglers who fish for these species in inland waters, better known as “fresh” waters, do not need to register.

In the case of Maryland and Virginia, the registration will apply to practically all who fish in the Chesapeake Bay and the tidal rivers that are found in both states.

The whole deal is known as the Marine Recreational Information Program. It’s designed, the NOAA said, to generate information that will help determine the condition of fish stocks.

You must register anytime after Jan. 1, and for the new year the registry will be free. By the start of 2011, you must do it again and then, the NOAA said, “an estimated fee of $15 to $25 per angler will be charged.”

How odd. If the NOAA wants to know how many tidal water fishermen there are, why can’t that be done without charging money for it? For instance, the national census that counts everyone who lives in the United States does not require payment.

Those who do not need to register include anglers under 16 years of age and anyone fishing only from charter vessels. Commercial fishermen, anglers holding permits to catch highly migratory species and people who have a saltwater license issued by a state that already takes care of the federal registration also do not need to register. In Maryland, even sport fishermen who are exempt from buying a state fishing license will need to register with the NOAA.

Leave it to the feds to come up with a way to get into our pockets.

Tom O’Connell, the fisheries service director of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, obviously doesn’t see it that way.

“According to a recent NOAA Fisheries Survey, saltwater anglers had an overall economic impact of $82 billion and generated more than half a million jobs nationwide,” he said. “It’s only appropriate that recreational anglers be counted and thereby have a substantial impact on the management and health of coastal fish stocks.”

But can’t they be counted without paying for it? And shouldn’t it cost much less than $15 or $25?

O’Connell said the data “will allow anglers, fisheries managers and others to effectively and fairly set strategies for ensuring the long-term sustainability of recreational fishing in salt waters.”

Getting a fair shake from the federal government as concerns equitable allocations of fish stocks in the ocean and tidal bays and rivers would be a welcome surprise and a refreshing way to look at sport anglers. Until now, federal fisheries managers seem to have cared more for commercial fish netters than the recreationals who contribute far more to the nation’s economy.

The registration will include an angler’s name, date of birth, address, telephone number and the regions where they intend to fish. The information then is supposed to be used to conduct surveys on fishing effort and the amount of fish caught.

By the way, once someone has registered, the government is kind enough to let them fish for anadromous species anywhere in U.S. federal waters or in any tidal waters regardless of the region specified in the registration.

On or after Jan. 1, go to www.countmyfish.noaa.gov or call 1-888/674-7411 to register.

Incidentally, for 2010 Maryland said fishermen will need to get in touch with the NOAA directly, but the DNR plans to take care of the registry in 2011. I doubt it will be free. Virginia hasn’t said whether it will copy Maryland’s plan, so if you live in the Old Dominion, just use the NOAA Web site or phone number.

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