Jeremy Alford

If you fish federal waters, Big Brother wants to know

by Jeremy Alford

When it comes to privacy issues and government control, Louisiana anglers will be the ones scaled and gutted next year. That’s when a national database is scheduled to go online to keep tabs of saltwater anglers who fish federal waters recreationally. Officials say the registry is needed to better protect the country’s shared marine resources.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wanted to go live with the registration process this month. Federal officials contend public reaction put the program on hold, but they also admit that they’ve decided to give the states another year to put in place their own data-collection systems. In short, NOAA was prepared to charge a licensing fee for registration, which is money coastal states quickly figured out they could be getting.

If you’re only wetting a line in Louisiana territory, don’t sweat it, though. Effective immediately, Bayou State anglers who are already registered with Louisiana to fish recreationally in federal ocean waters are exempt from the new rule. That’s because Louisiana already maintains a system that can provide complete information on its saltwater anglers to the national registry.

However, if you fish federal waters in another state that doesn’t keep a similar tally on file, like Florida or South Carolina, you will have to register on the federal level under the new program rules. Saltwater anglers will be able to register and obtain a certificate by going online or by calling a toll-free telephone number that will be publicized at a later date. An estimated fee of $15 to $25 per angler will be charged starting in 2011. No fee will be charged in 2010.

Anglers fishing in non-registry states will need to carry their certificate with them and produce it to an authorized enforcement officer if requested. The registration will be valid for one year from its date of issue. For Louisiana anglers fishing local federal waters, a state license will suffice. Additionally, anglers who fish only on licensed party, charter or guide boats will not be required to register with NOAA since these vessels are surveyed separately from angler surveys. Anglers under age 16 are likewise exempt.

The federal saltwater registry will eventually include an angler’s name, date of birth, address, telephone number and the regions where they intend to fish. This information will be used by NOAA to conduct surveys on fishing effort and amounts of fish caught.

Conservation groups have been calling for a universal registry for generations and Congress approved the enacting legislation in 2007. Although it’s coming online later than expected, is finally moving forward with the initiative. The underlying goal is to improve the quality of recreational fishing data nationwide, says Jim Balsiger, NOAA’s fisheries administrator. But the program’s real value will be in how the data is used and mined.

“Better national surveys of the more than 15 million saltwater anglers will help us demonstrate the important contributions of recreational anglers to both local economies and to the nation’s,” Balsiger says. "The registry will help us gather comprehensive data to ensure sustainable fisheries built on the best available science."