Merwin: Weigh-In on Saltwater Licenses

Saltwater fishing licenses--or the lack of them--are still a hot-button issue around the Northeast this summer. The recently renewed federal Magnuson-Stevens Act essentially mandated that coastal states without such licenses create them or else. Otherwise, the feds will start a mandatory licensing system starting in 2010. But will saltwater licensing be a boon or boondoggle?

Most coastal states already have such licensing systems. The coastal New England states, along with New York and New Jersey, do not, and saltwater licenses have long been fiercely resisted by anglers there. State legislatures in Connecticut and Rhode Island, for example, have taken up licensing bills with oddly little fanfare. There may in fact be licensing requirements newly in place in some areas by the time you read this.

Saltwater licensing is going to happen. The feds have made it a done deal. It's now just a matter of how the remaining hold-out states work things out and when. And I think this is a good thing, but only if the state licensing fees are put back into the resource. I would love to see more marine-patrol officers, for example, in the areas where I chase bluefish and stripers spring and fall--generally meaning Maine to Montauk. Poaching, including the keeping of short stripers, is rampant.

But what say you? Should the oceans be angling's last free frontier, accessible to any and all anglers without any fees? Or should you have to pay to play, just as millions of freshwater anglers do via state licensing systems?