Angler registry sought to improve fish counts

The Baltimore Sun

Striped bass anglers in the Chesapeake Bay and along the Atlantic Ocean would be required next year to register with the federal government under a proposal announced yesterday.

When Congress renewed the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 2006, it insisted that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration replace its discredited method for counting fish populations.

Biologists determined that the best way to get an accurate census was to set up a registry system that lets anglers report their catches by phone or online.

The registry is targeted at anglers who fish more than three miles offshore but also includes migratory species such as striped bass, shad and salmon that can be caught along the coast and in tidal waters and rivers.

"The proposed national registry of saltwater anglers is intended to obtain more accurate information on coastal migratory recreational fisheries - a concern expressed by Maryland anglers," said Tom O'Connell, director of the Maryland Fisheries Service.

The new system will be free until 2011 to give states the opportunity to create their own reporting or licensing system with any fees staying in the state. After that, the federal government will charge anglers $15-$25 annually, and that money will go into the U.S. Treasury.

O'Connell expects Maryland will create its own registry or licensing system. The state requires a tidal fishing license but not one for surf fishing. It also has a voluntary reporting system for striped bass catches.

"As we learn more about the substance of this registry program, we will work with our anglers to identify approaches most suitable to address issues in Maryland and communicate those to NOAA," O'Connell said. "By working with our anglers and NOAA, this registry program has the potential to improve the management and sustainability of coastal migratory fisheries and recreational fishing opportunities."

The public will have until Aug. 11 to comment at www.countmyfish

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