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Ken Perrotte’s Outdoors Column: Saltwater license rule bewildering anglers

Requirements for Fisherman Identification Program numbers for saltwater anglers are still causing confusion, as evidenced by recent reader mail related to reciprocity agreements between Maryland and Virginia.

Reader Hugh Seymour wrote about a discussion he had with Maryland Department of Natural Resources officials. They informed him that, while his Virginia license covers his fishing in the Potomac and Maryland portions of the Chesapeake Bay, he still needed a separate Maryland FIP.

“I asked my buddies and they all assumed the same as I did, that the numbers were reciprocal like our saltwater license,” Seymour wrote.

John Bull of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission explained that Virginia needs an “accurate, comprehensive phone book of every adult (not children under age 16) who fishes in Virginia’s saltwaters every year. This is so all Virginia saltwater anglers, whether they need a license or not, are exempt from having to register with the National Saltwater Angler Registry, which charges everyone $15 a year to register.

“Maryland is in the same boat,” he added. “There’s just no way to tell which Maryland angler will fish only in Maryland or in both Maryland and Virginia.”

Bull said the goal is to get contact information for everyone fishing in Virginia waters, whether or not they buy a Virginia license. Information is collected from people buying licenses, but seniors and others who fish on a boat licensed to cover everyone on board may not have licenses and need to register. Licensed Marylanders don’t have to buy a Virginia saltwater fishing license, but are still required to FIP register in Virginia.

“Otherwise, we’ll have no idea who in Maryland is fishing here,” Bull said. “The same applies to Maryland. Virginia saltwater anglers don’t need a license to fish in Maryland’s saltwaters, but Maryland won’t know which Virginia resident is fishing in Maryland, so they have the same registration requirement we do.”

While granting reciprocity for licenses is easily doable, apparently FIP registration remains more challenging given the need for state-specific records.

Registering is easy and free. I registered with Maryland online and it took barely a minute. Virginia makes it just as easy, either online or by calling 800/723-2728.

To register in Virginia, see mrc.virginia.gov/FIP/index.shtm. For Maryland, go to dnr.maryland.gov/swregistry.asp.

MORE FISHING DATA

The FIP program is part of a broader federal effort to ascertain how many people are fishing and how much and what they are catching.

Collecting reliable catch data has been a challenge. Recreational saltwater anglers have blasted decisions to close popular recreational fisheries based on allegedly suspect data gleaned under the Marine Recreational Information Program.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently unveiled a new tool touted to improve catch estimates. Estimated catch rates dating back to 2004 were revised using the new method. This new method will be used beginning this year for the Atlantic coast and Gulf of Mexico.

In a release, Eric Schwaab, NOAA’s acting assistant secretary of commerce for conservation and management, said, “The new estimation method is a fundamental change that better reflects what is happening on the water and within the recreational fishing community.”

NOAA stated that no overall trends surfaced by using the new estimates.

Improving catch estimates was a major focus of the Magnuson–Stevens Reauthorization Act, passed by Congress and signed by the president in 2007.

NOAA contends that the revised methodology, coupled with the National Saltwater Angler Registry, electronic logbooks in charter boats and more, should improve data quality.

You can view comparisons of recreational catch estimates using the previous method and the revised method at CountMyFish .noaa.gov. I visited the site and found it relatively easy to use.

CABELA’S EYES EXPANSION

Outdoor retailer Cabela’s expects to open five “next-generation” stores in North America this year, as well as an “Outpost” store of about 40,000 square feet, for smaller markets.

The announcement was made with the company reporting record fourth-quarter financial results, with net income up 25 percent over the same period a year earlier, especially in the firearms and shooting categories. It sure looks like the community of outdoors enthusiasts is doing its part to bolster the economy.

LEAD TACKLE BAN EFFORT FAILS

A second petition by the Center for Biological Diversity to ban lead in fishing tackle under the Toxic Substance Control Act was denied by the Environmental Protection Agency. The same organization has also tried to petition for the banning of traditional ammunition with lead components.

Nontraditional ammunition and fishing tackle can be much more expensive, which would likely hurt participation and ultimately result in decreased excise-tax revenue for conservation.

Bipartisan federal legislation, the Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Sports Protection Act (S 838, HR 1558) would prevent a federal ban on lead in both recreational fishing tackle and traditional ammunition. It also helps ensure that any future regulations on fishing tackle are established based on scientific fact instead of unjustified petitions, according to the American Sportfishing Association.

Ken Perrotte can be reached at The Free Lance–Star, 616 Amelia Street, Fredericksburg, Va. 22401, by fax at 373-8455 or by email at outdoors@freelancestar.com.

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