November 18, 2019

Rough water for saltwater fishing licenses

A task force report that favors the establishment of a recreational saltwater fishing license could spawn controversy for the next Legislature.

“It’s a lot of hogwash,” said Robert Boilard of Biddeford, a saltwater angler and fishing companion of former President George Bush. Boilard said in a telephone interview Thursday evening that he had opposed a similar move in the 1980s, and he would resist any effort to impose such legislation today.

The Saltwater Fishing License Task Force, made up of nine representatives of the state’s marine fisheries, sport and tourism interests, was created last year to study the economic and resource-management implications of a recreational saltwater fishing license. Commissioner William Brennan of the Department of Marine Resources chaired the task force.

According to a report presented to the Legislatures’s Joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources, the task force recommended that a saltwater license be enacted provided it was based on several guiding principles:

That funds derived from licensing and fines for sport fish violations be dedicated to programs that benefit marine anglers.

That licensing requirements and exemptions be consistent with Maine freshwater license requirements.

That fees for residents and nonresidents initially be the same.

That boats for hire (charter and party boats) be licensed to cover all passengers aboard.

That licenses be easily obtainable, simple and affordable.

That funds be used for broad categories of programs.

That a sport fishery advisory council with a liaison representative from the commercial fishing industry advise the DMR on marine sport fish program priorities.

In a telephone interview this week, Sen. Harry Vose, D-Meddybemps, chairman of the Marine Resources Committee, said that because the 1994 session is a short one, the matter probably would be referred to the 117th Legislature.

Some of the support for the license, Vose said, was based on its potential economic benefit. Currently 11 states, including Florida and Maryland, have recreational saltwater fishing licenses with fees that range from $5 to $16 for residents, and $5.50 to $50 for nonresidents. The task force anticipated that revenues of $500,000 could be expected if a saltwater fishing license were introduced. The figure was based on Maryland’s experience with saltwater fishing licenses.

Vose said he believed any legislation generated by the report would be controversial. “People who grew up in this state and are used to fishing off the breakwater without a license are going to be upset. There never has been a charge for that. So there is going to be controversy,” he predicted.

Bucky Owen, commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and an ex-officio member of the Task Force, said he also expected controversy to surround any effort to impose saltwater licenses. Owen said he would recommend that the task force work with the recreation saltwater user groups before any bill was submitted to the Legislature. He said he believed once the user group had a chance to participate in the process, it would support legislation.

Boilard, an angler advocate, said he did not believe he was alone in his opposition to the task force’s recommendation. “I am talking about the fella or kid or the father who wants to take his son to the beach and fish off the breakwater, these are the people I am protecting,” he said. “These bureaucrats in Augusta… just won’t listen,” he said.

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