- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 11, 2009

Only a few days after I received an outrageously unrealistic property tax assessment notice - housing prices, after all, have gone down the drain - that got me thinking the government is completely out of touch, here comes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with a scheme to reach into the pockets of those who like to fish in ocean waters.

Has anyone in government learned that the American taxpayer is hurting and that perhaps someone ought to apply the brakes - instead of asking for more and more?

Besides Maryland believing that my home is worth $100,000 more than any sane real estate buyer would ever offer, the NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service has a plan to create a national saltwater angler registry of all marine recreational fishermen. The NOAA said it wants the registry to “help the nation better protect our shared marine resources” and then reminded us that such a registry was approved by Congress in 2007.

It’ll cost us. Although no fee will be charged in 2010, an estimated $15 to $25 per angler will be demanded starting in 2011.

The government seems to want to know if commercial fish-netters in federal waters are getting their fair share and if by chance recreational anglers are catching too many fish or perhaps not catching enough. (Yes, the latter part of the preceding sentence is pure sarcasm.) There already are federal and state officials along the East Coast who are convinced that recreational anglers are taking too hefty a bite out of certain fish stocks. The “poor” commercial fish-netters, thought to be pillars of the community as far as government regulators are concerned, are probably hurting because the sport fishermen are too successful.

Anyway, saltwater anglers will be able to register online or by calling a toll-free number. All registrants will receive a certificate that must be carried when on the water; it must be produced when an authorized enforcement officer asks to see it. There is a possibility that anglers will be exempt if their state already insists on special tidal water licenses and if those states provide needed statistics to the NOAA.

I’m not at all against the NOAA wanting a first-rate national survey of the more than 15 million saltwater anglers on both coasts. The NOAA said it will help “demonstrate the important contributions of recreational anglers to both local economies and to the nation.”

Jim Balsiger, acting assistant administrator for the fisheries service, said, “The registry will help us gather comprehensive data to ensure sustainable fisheries built on the best available science.”

OK, but why does it have to cost $15 to $25? Good recreational fishing data that could be gained through a national saltwater angler registry might help demonstrate the economic value of saltwater recreational fishing and might provide a better picture of how recreational fishing is affecting fish stocks. But aren’t these offices already receiving taxpayer dollars to run their departments?

Meanwhile, all recreational anglers who fish in federal waters will be required to participate in this new licensing of sport anglers, although some states will be exempt. It remains to be seen if Maryland and Virginia are among them, but the final rule requires anglers and spearfishers who fish recreationally in federal ocean waters to be included in the registry by Jan. 1, 2010.

Anglers who fish only on licensed party, charter or guide boats would not be required to register. For more information, visit countmyfish.noaa.gov.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected] com. Mueller’s Inside Outside blog can be found at www.washingtontimes.com/sports.

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