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June 12, 2008

NOAA proposes rule to require saltwater angler registration

NOAA proposes rule to require saltwater angler registration
By Noaa

NOAA's Fisheries Service is seeking comment on a proposed rule that
requires anglers and spearfishers who fish recreationally in federal
ocean waters to be registered before fishing in 2009.

The rule would also require registration by those who may catch
anadromous species anywhere, including striped bass, salmon and shad
that spawn in rivers and streams and spend their adult lives in
estuaries and the ocean.

The proposed rule satisfies the National Academy of Science National
Research Council recommendations to establish a national database of
saltwater anglers, and meets the requirements under the
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The
proposed rule is part of a larger initiative of NOAA's Fisheries
Service to improve the quality and accuracy of data on marine
recreational fishing and catches. The registry will also help measure
the economic benefits of recreational fishing on the national and
local economies.

"The national registry of saltwater anglers is the key to closing a
major gap in information on recreational fishing," said Jim Balsiger,
NOAA acting assistant administrator for NOAA's Fisheries Service. "It
will help us conduct surveys to get a more complete picture of how
recreational fishing by an estimated 14 million people is affecting
fish stocks. This will lead to better stock assessments and more
effective regulations to rebuild and manage these valuable fish."

NOAA may exempt anglers from registration if they already have a
state-issued saltwater fishing license or registration, and the state
provides sufficiently complete information to place in the national
registry. In certain instances, anglers in states participating in
regional surveys of marine recreational fishing may also be exempted.
The new rule allows states to apply for exemptions.

States on the West Coast (including Alaska), the Gulf Coast, and the
South Atlantic offer saltwater fishing licenses. Hawaii and the
states from New Jersey to Maine do not.

"States without saltwater licenses have a strong incentive to adopt
licenses," said Balsiger. "Any fee that a state collects through a
license can be used for restoration and fishery management in the
state. By law, the registry fee taken by NOAA will offset the cost of
issuing the registration. It can not be specifically directed to
fisheries management."

Fishermen would be required to be registered annually and NOAA will
not charge a registration fee in the first two years. Beginning in
2011, the annual fee will be an estimated $15 to $25 per angler.
Anglers under the age of 16 would be exempt from registering and fees
would be waived for indigenous people, such as members of federally
recognized tribes. NOAA's Fisheries Service recognizes that many
indigenous people fish for food as part of ancient cultural traditions.
Anglers who fish only on licensed party, charter, or guide boats
would also be exempt, since these vessels are surveyed separately
from the angler surveys. Also, persons who hold commercial fishing
licenses or permits, and are legally fishing under them, will be
exempt from the registration requirement.

Registrations will include an angler's name, address, telephone
number, and the regions where fishing is conducted. This information
will not be made public; it will be used only by NOAA to conduct surveys.
The National Academy of Science's National Research Council advised
NOAA's Fisheries Service in 2006 to redesign its surveys of
recreational fishermen for more accuracy, precision, and
transparency. The NRC's independent scientific review resulted in
more than 200 recommendations for improving marine recreational
surveys, including the recommendation to establish a national
database of saltwater anglers. This recommendation became law in the
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the primary
fisheries law for U.S. ocean waters, which was reauthorized in 2007.
Please see http://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/mrip for additional
information on this effort, the Marine Recreational Information Program.

For the last 28 years, NOAA's Fisheries Service has conducted
recreational fishing surveys through random telephone interviews with
residents living in coastal counties. NOAA and its regional and state
partners conduct an extensive program of dockside interviews of
anglers to obtain data on their catch.

The national saltwater registry will enable surveyors to interview
only those people who fish, and will reach all anglers, not only
those who live near the coast. To read the proposed rule, go to
http://www.countmyfish.noaa.gov.

Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted until Aug. 11. They
can be mailed to:
John Boreman Director, Office of Science and Technology
NMFS
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910 Attn.: Gordon Colvin
Comments can also be submitted electronically at
http://www.regulations.gov.