With all the recent controversy about the possible introduction of a sea angling licence in parts of the UK, you may find it interesting, even salutary, to read what American sea anglers and their leaders experiences have been.

The following article appeared in the latest newsletter from the Recreational Fishing Alliance, a powerful American anglers’ political organsiation dedicated to preserving fishing in the United States of America.

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Anglers who fought it hard before were quiet this time

By John Geiser, Asbury Park Press – 27 July 2007

Delaware legislators – but not all Delaware anglers – seem to like the idea of a license to fish in salt water. Most people, who fish, crab or clam for recreation in Delaware waters next year will have to buy a license that will cost US$8.50 for residents. The new law will also increase the license fees for recreational and charter boats, and non-residents and tourists will also be required to buy a license.

The state Legislature heard little opposition from anglers. The bill passed the House by a vote of 39-2 on June 27 and 16-4 June 28 in the Senate. Gov. Ruth Ann Miller signed the legislation into law June 30. The law will go into effect next year. Delaware anglers always opposed a saltwater license in the past, but seemed worn out this time around.

James A. Donofrio, Executive Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, said Delaware members were overwhelmingly against the license, but did not show characteristic resistance this time. “Some of the Delaware anglers who supported it think they’re getting benefit from it,” Donofrio said. “They’re being told that they will get political clout from paying the tax. It won’t work that way.” Donofrio said he has been working with anglers in California, the first state to institute a saltwater fishing license. ‘The license is now up to US$60 in California, and they’re getting practically nothing from it,” he said. “In fact, they have so little political clout that the environmentalists have pushed through the Marine Life Protection Act, which will actually take away some of their best fishing spots. They’re losing ground every day out there,” he continued.

“Even California fish and wildlife officials admit they’ve lost 200,000 anglers. They’re not buying the licenses anymore. The state’s population is booming and the number of saltwater anglers is falling every year,” he added. “The license buyers are just not getting anything for their money.”

Roy Miller, fisheries administrator for the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife, said the money from the license will boost the division’s sagging budget. “The much-needed revenue generated by these changes enables us to do a great many things benefiting Delaware anglers,” he said, “including the immediate reinstatement of the Delaware Sport Fishing Tournament, which was reluctantly suspended due to lack of funding last year.”

Proponents of the license said that the money will also be spent for building new facilities and adding marine police. One of the heavy hitters in the push for a saltwater license was the Delaware Mobile Surf-Fishermen, an organization of beach buggy anglers that had reservations about a saltwater tax for years. Acie Mankins, president of DMS, said concessions were made to them, and the association came on as a supporter. One of the deals made was that a vehicle will be licensed, but all of the people in the vehicle will be able to fish free; another was a reduction in the cost of boat fishing licenses.

Much of the saltwater license revenue will be generated in Delaware’s Sussex County, and that county’s anglers were concerned that not enough of the money would be used in that county. Legislators and administrators hastened to assure Sussex County fishermen that they would get their fair share of the money, and, by law, the money will not go into the general treasury, but will stay within the division.

Other backers of the saltwater license said that they might as well give in to a license now because the federal government will require all anglers to register in 2012, anyway, and the license will provide the state and federal governments with fisheries data.

Donofrio said neither argument is valid since the registration system being studied by the National Marine Fisheries Service will initially be free, and the government does not use fisheries data from Florida, California, and other states because there are so many exceptions for seniors, juniors, pier fishermen, party and charter boatmen whose fares do not have to buy a license, and so forth.

Further, he pointed out, anglers should not have to pay for fisheries research for a public resource that is increasingly being influenced by environmentalists who do not buy a license.

Nils Stolpe, a spokesman for the commercial fishing industry, said the Pew Charitable Trusts, which is pouring money into organizations making assaults on commercial and recreational fishing efforts, is an increasing problem.

Stolpe said The Conservation Law Foundation has received more than $1 million Pew dollars, Earthjustice has received US$20 million; National Environmental Trust has received more than US$40 million, Public Interest Research Group has received more than US$18 million, Oceana more than US$38 million, and Natural Resources Defense Council US$5 million.

If this money had been spent on marine fisheries research, it would have surpassed all of the revenue that was generated for that purpose from state fishing licenses for years.

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