OCEAN CITY – Starting tomorrow, most anglers fishing in the resort area or practically anywhere else in the state will have to register with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) before wetting a line, thanks to the implementation of a new federal program designed to better manage saltwater fish populations.
Federal officials have implemented the new initiative, known as the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP), in an effort to produce more accurate information to determine the condition of various fish stocks. According to NOAA officials, the data collected through the national angler registry will be used to allow fishermen, fisheries managers and others to effectively and fairly set strategies to ensure the long-term sustainability of recreational saltwater fishing.
Ironically, the new angler registry takes effect on Jan. 1, 2010, just about three months after the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) shut down the black sea bass fishery in the Atlantic, abruptly closing one of the most popular fisheries in the mid-Atlantic region during the height of the fall season. In response, a national recreational fishing advocacy group along with charter captains from North Carolina to Maine, including several in the Ocean City area, filed a multi-party civil suit against the federal agency seeking to reverse the closure.
According to Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials, the new angler registration program is an essential part of a national commitment to effectively manage saltwater fish populations. It will reportedly allow fishermen and policy makers to work together to assess the contributions and impacts of saltwater anglers on ocean ecosystems, coastal economies and fish populations.
The new registration requirement includes anglers fishing in any saltwater areas in and around the resort area. Because the program includes any angler who may catch an anadromous species, or one that moves from saltwater to freshwater environments, the registration requirement has been extended to any angler who fishes in coastal waters including the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
However, not all anglers are required to register. For example, anglers under 16 years of age do not have to register, nor do anglers fishing on a charter boat, commercial fishermen, holders of highly migratory species permits or anglers who hold a saltwater fishing license from a state where they are automatically registered. Anglers who fish in Maryland’s Free Fishing areas or who are otherwise exempt from buying a Maryland fishing license still need to register with NOAA, however.
State and federal fisheries managers acknowledged the economic impact of recreational fishing and couched the new registration requirement in terms suggesting it will allow recreational anglers to participate in the management process.
“According to a recent NOAA Fisheries Survey, saltwater anglers had an overall economic impact of $82 billion and generated more than a half a million jobs nationwide,” said Maryland DNR Fisheries Service Director Tom O’Connell this week. “It’s only appropriate that recreational anglers be counted and thereby have a substantial impact on the management and health of coastal fish stocks.”
DNR officials anticipate changes to the Maryland fishing license will accommodate the requirements of the national saltwater registry by 2011, but in the meantime, anglers must register directly with NOAA starting Jan. 1. The process is simple and free of charge and can be completed online at www.countmyfish.com or by calling 1-888-MRIP-411.