Merwin: Saltwater Licensing Postponed

A federal rule that would have required most unlicensed saltwater anglers to join an "Angler Registry" by Jan. 1, 2009 has been postponed. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has developed the proposed rule as required under law by the Magnuson- Stevens Act. Anglers fishing in federal waters as well as those fishing in (inshore) state waters for anadromous fish such as striped bass were to have registered as such with NMFS, creating what amounts to a federal saltwater fishing license. The exceptions were those anglers already holding a saltwater license from states that require them. Northeastern coastal states from New Jersey north to Maine do not (yet) require a license.

When I asked NMFS spokesman Forbes Darby last week what happened to the rule, he explained that NMFS had submitted the proposed rule to the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval. This has to happen before the rule is made official by publication in the Federal Register. OMB has yet to reply, Darby told me, which means the new licensing rule can't be implemented by the planned January 1 deadline. Darby had no guess as to when OMB approval might happen.

Saltwater licensing is a hugely contentious issue in the Northeast. The question remains not if it is going to happen--it will--but when.