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John Merwin lives in Vermont, where, when he's not tying flies, building lures, or digging up worms with his backhoe, he writes the monthly Fishing Column for Field & Stream magazine.

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December 26, 2008

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Merwin: Saltwater Licensing Set For 2010

Just a day after I posted the news that a new federal saltwater fishing license was being postponed, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued a release stating that implementation of their "Angler Registry" will begin on January 1, 2010. It had been set to begin in just a few days, on January 1, 2009.

The reason for the delay, as I was first told, was a hang-up in getting the proposed rule approved by the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB). That OMB problem isn't mentioned in the release, which instead says the delay is intended to give coastal states that don't have saltwater licensing--generally from New Jersey north to Maine--time to develop a way of accurately counting their saltwater anglers. That will for the most part mean adopting their own saltwater licensing systems before the feds do it for them.

Read the links above for an excellent explanation of the federal plan. Understand also that if, for example, you live in Illinois or Ohio and travel to fish stripers in Massachusetts, then the licensing requirement will also apply to you.


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I remain opposed to this registry for reasons of privacy and consistutional authority.

Imagine chartering a boat in Florida and heading for the Bahamas (which tens of thousands of Americans do every year). If you fish or possess angling equipment in British territorial waters in the Bahamas (outside the EEZ fisheries of the United States) you must have a U.S. saltwater license and pay the fee, which they anticipate collecting in 2011.

Quite frankly, it is no business of anyone, especially a U.S. government bureaucrat, where I fish while out of the country and which species I catch, release or eat.

The intended purpose of the registry is to collect data about our catches. We are compelled to register, pay fees, disclose personal data and trust they will not divulge personal information or use the data to impose some future restriction. The government is incapable of protecting this information and preventing its access by political revenge artists. Ask Joe The Plumber.

Finally, my copy of the Constitution of the United States doesn't have a section detailing the authority of the Federal government to collect this information, my personal data or my money (or spend my money for that matter) on this misadventure in bureaucracy.

I predict much civil disobedience - which will lead to backlash by NOAA complaining they can't get anglers to cooperate with fishing surveys- leading to new rules and regulations compelling registration and disclosure under penalty of prosecution.