June 26, 2008

Offshore recreational anglers may have to register with NOAA


Saltwater recreational anglers fishing in federal waters would be required to register with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) under a proposed rule issued in mid-June.

Anglers fishing in state waters where anadromous species, such as striped bass, shad, or herring, might be hooked would be required to register also.

Anglers in states that have a state-issued saltwater recreational fishing license could be exempt from the requirement under a waiver from NOAA Fisheries.

“But some license programs might have holes and not be accepted for the exemption,” warned Gordon Colvin, NOAA fisheries biologist.

Colvin said states would need to have either an anglers contact database or participate in a regional data collection system that accounted for all saltwater anglers.

North Carolina fisheries officials said they believe the state stands a good chance of receiving an exemption from NOAA.

“We are in a good position to apply for the exemption,” said Dee Lupton, deputy director of the state Division of Marine Fisheries.

Lupton said NOAA is currently using the North Carolina contact database in a project testing different methods of surveying anglers.

Still, NOAA could require some modification to the North Carolina fishing license.

Lupton said one area of concern could be the lack of contact information for anglers fishing on piers under the pier blanket license.

“We might find that most of those fishermen also have individual licenses, or we might need to devise another way to get their information into the federal registry,” she explained.

The blanket license for charter boats and headboats shouldn’t be a problem. The proposed federal rule exempts anglers on for-hire vessels from the registration requirement.  A separate reporting system already collects catch-data from those vessels.

NOAA is likely to require significant changes to license programs that are unable to capture data from large segments of the angling population.  That could happen in states such as SC where shore-based anglers don’t have to buy a license.

And Hawaii and the seven states from New Jersey to Maine don’t have a saltwater license.

“States without saltwater licenses have a strong incentive to adopt a license,” said Jim Balsiger, acting assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries.

Balsiger said the registry would help fill gaps in recreational fishing data.

“This will lead to better stock assessments and more effective regulations to rebuild and manage these valuable fish,” he said.

Unlike the comprehensive system of logbooks and trip-tickets, and in some instances electronic monitoring, that tracks landings by commercial fishermen, recreational data is collected largely through telephone calls to random phone numbers in coastal telephone directories. 

The proposed registry would weed out inefficiency in the system by narrowing the field of potential interviewees to persons who fish.

NOAA has proposed that the registry requirement take effect for the 2009 fishing season.  Beginning in 2011, the federal agency would charge a registration fee, estimated to run between $15 and $25. 

NOAA Fisheries is accepting comments on the proposal through August 11.  More information is available at www.countmyfish.noaa.gov


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