Under pressure from offshore fishermen and lawsuits brought by some coastal towns, our state lawmakers are on the brink of passing legislation that would reverse a license requirement for saltwater and Hudson River anglers.
The license - costing a paltry $10, mind you - was put in place Oct. 1, 2009, to help fund New York's hemorrhaging Conservation Fund, plus satisfy a new federal requirement to account for people using marine resources for recreational fishing.
In my mind, this license was long overdue. For years, the expense of monitoring and managing the Hudson River and coastal water was shouldered not by the users who benefited but by license sales of other sportsmen.
Now, the new license could disappear under a bill put forth by Long Island Democrat Sen. Brian Foley.
Why should we care?
Because it will undoubtedly divert our license money away from programs affecting game and inland waters.
Without the nearly $3 million in revenues generated from the new license, funding for the DEC's Marine Bureau - charged with managing Marine District and Hudson River fisheries - will need to come from the General Fund or Conservation Fund, where revenues from hunting, trapping and fresh water fishing licenses are deposited.
That would quickly eat up much of the extra money generated by our latest license fee increase - an increase supported by sportsmen's groups in the interest of keeping the Conservation Fund solvent.
To make matters worse, the saltwater license was helping meet a federal requirement used to tally the number of people partaking in recreational saltwater fishing. Without that tally, millions in federal aid is in jeopardy.
To avoid that, Foley and other downstate legislators have proposed a so-called "free registration" system to satisfy the federal requirement, under which anglers would register by computer or telephone.
But conservation officials are skeptical, saying the system would still need to be managed and registered anglers would still need to be identified, essentially mirroring the system now in place.
NYS Conservation Fund Advisory Board Chairman Jason Kemper is one of those people.
"You would still need the same system created by the saltwater license, but without a funding stream," Kemper noted.
"The point is we have to do this or lose our federal aid," he said.
So, in effect, hunters and freshwater anglers will have their license money diverted from programs affecting game and inland waters to fund a registration program so salt water anglers won't have to pay to participate in their chosen hobby.
That is a tough pill to swallow, and should be for anyone who buys a license.
The state Senate has already passed the repealer bill, and it now sits with the Assembly. If the bill does become law, the state will have to dip into the Conservation Fund to pay back the 180,000 anglers who purchased annual and lifetime marine licenses.
In the meantime, lobbyists for offshore fishing alliances like Jim Hutchinson of the Recreational Fishing Alliance are fighting hard to eliminate the license, arguing it is an "onerous constraint on less fortunate fisherman unable to afford an extra fee to fish the ocean."
Foley himself said, "I strongly urge the assembly to pass this important piece of legislation so that it can be signed into law as soon as possible so that all New Yorkers, but in particular Long Islanders (his district, of course), can benefit from being able to fish our coastal waters without breaking the bank."
Really? Ten dollars?
An "onerous constraint"?
"Breaking the bank?"
Ten dollars is about one-third the cost of a freshwater license and about one-tenth what I paid for my hunting and fishing licenses combined last year.
Makes me want to donate $10 just to shut these people up.
John Gereau is managing editor of Denton Publications and an avid outdoorsman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.