Proposal to eliminate Florida fishing licenses catches anglers’ attention POLL/PHOTOS

Fishers young and old came out to Wiggins Pass on Monday, February 21, 2011, to take advantage of the sun and calm waters. Republican Senator Joe Negron has introduced a bill for the upcoming legislative session to do away with fishing licenses for residents and visitors in Florida for both saltwater and freshwater fishing.  Allie Garza/Staff

Photo by ALLIE GARZA // Buy this photo

Fishers young and old came out to Wiggins Pass on Monday, February 21, 2011, to take advantage of the sun and calm waters. Republican Senator Joe Negron has introduced a bill for the upcoming legislative session to do away with fishing licenses for residents and visitors in Florida for both saltwater and freshwater fishing. Allie Garza/Staff

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— Dropping a fishing line in Florida’s waters might soon be simpler.

State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has filed a bill that would eliminate recreational fishing licenses for fresh water and saltwater.

“I just don’t believe a citizen should have to have written permission from the government to go fishing,” Negron said. “It’s part of my agenda to get the government out of the citizens’ daily lives where I can.”

Negron said that programs currently funded by the licenses should be funded by the state’s general revenue.

Meanwhile, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has come out strongly against the proposal, estimating that fishing license sales will generate more than $45 million in fiscal 2011-12. Fishing advocacy group Coastal Conservation Association Florida is also against it, while local anglers were mixed on the subject, some liking the idea of less hassle and others worrying about where the money would come from if it didn’t come from fishing licenses.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Sandy Dollar, 37, and her friend, Jennifer Brownlee, 36, hit the beach at Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park with their kids for an afternoon of sun and fishing.

Dollar helped her sons, Andre, 6, and Slade, 8, attach shrimp to hooks and cast. Between her boys and Brownlee’s three daughters, the group caught about 15 small fish, all of which they tossed back into the waves, Dollar said.

“We do fish fairly often,” Dollar said. “Honestly, I think a small fee is good because it regulates it a bit.”

The fee should continue to be less for residents than nonresidents, she added.

Currently, resident saltwater fishing licenses are free for shoreline fishing and $17 for a one-year license. Nonresident saltwater fishing licenses cost $17 for three days, $30 for a week or $47 for a year. The costs are the same for freshwater licenses, and residents can buy them together for $32.50.

Ken Strasen, owner of Master Bait & Tackle on Bonita Beach Road, sold 181 fishing licenses last week, he said, for a total of $5,296. So far, in February, the shop has sold $15,237 in licenses.

“I’m all for (the bill),” he said. “But where is the money going to come from? This is just a little shop here in Bonita Springs and that’s more than $15,000 in a month.”

State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart

State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart

Florida residents

Annual saltwater — $17

Annual saltwater shoreline — Free

Annual freshwater — $17

Annual freshwater/saltwater — $32.50

Senior citizen (65 and older) freshwater/saltwater — Free

Children younger than 16 freshwater/saltwater — Free

* * * * *


Annual saltwater — $47

Three-day saltwater — $17

Seven-day saltwater — $30

Annual freshwater — $47

Three-day freshwater — $17

Seven-day freshwater — $30

With the state government already talking about cutting all kinds of services, Strasen was skeptical whether there would be funds in general revenue to replace money lost if fishing licenses weren’t required.

“To tell you the truth I don’t think it’ll go,” he said.

Fishing license sales and federal aid received as a result of fishing licenses will total about $45,229,260 in fiscal 2011-12, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Of that, $9,078,257 is from freshwater licenses, $23,012,591 from saltwater licenses and the balance from sports fish restoration federal aid, which requires evidence of paid licenses.

The money is used for “fisheries enhancement, conservation, sustainable harvest regulation and research, as well as providing law enforcement, boating safety and boating access,” according to a statement released by the commission.

Negron said he doesn’t think the commission should be funded in this manner.

Florida’s conservation commission is “important and essential,” but it should be funded the same way other state law enforcement agencies are — in general revenue, Negron said.

“These programs and projects should have to compete with everything else in the budget every year,” he said.

As of now, there isn’t a House sponsor for the bill, but if it should be filed in the House, state Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, said he doesn’t see any initial concerns with eliminating the requirement for a recreational or saltwater fishing license.

“I think it would be a very good thing and would certainly save some citizens an awful lot of dollars and allow them to enjoy the great state that we have in a wonderful way,” he said.

Florida’s Coastal Conservation Association, a fishing advocacy group, is “adamantly opposed” to the bill, said Ted Forsgren, executive director.

Saltwater fishing license money currently is used for fisheries management, research and law enforcement, and it has provided “tremendous benefits,” including artificial reefs and research on snook and redfish, Forsgren said.

“There’s no money laying around up here in Tallahassee,” he said. “Every program is being cut, every program is being reduced. Having that independent amount that’s being paid for by the people who are most enthusiastic about the resource would help the funding levels to continue.”

And regardless of the law, a federal fishing license would be required for many saltwater anglers, and that money wouldn’t necessarily be returned to Florida, Forsgren said.

Back on the beach in Naples, visitor Deb Ramm, 41, helped her 6-year-old son, Noah, cast his fishing rod from the shore.

Deb Ramm and her family were visiting her husband’s parents in Lehigh Acres for a week, and they came to Naples for the beautiful beach, they said. They’re from Rhode Island, where you also need a license to fish.

“I think you should need one,” she said. “For kids Noah’s age, it’s not necessary but for adults it’s good because it makes you more responsible.”

A few steps down the beach, Julio Perez, 42, cast out his line while his wife Odalys Perez, 50, soaked up the sun nearby.

“I think for Floridians, we shouldn’t need a license to be fishing at the beach,” Julio Perez said.

“It’s such a relaxing, family-oriented activity,” Odalys Perez said. “Anyone with a Florida license should be able to fish on the beach, it just makes all your headaches go away.”

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Comments » 2

LadueVGilleo writes:

The New Jersey legislature is pushing for a free saltwater fishing license for its residents. Other states in the northeast charge between $7 to $10 a year and the states reciprocate with each other, making the need for an in-state and an out-of-state saltwater fishing license unnecessary.

I understand that saltwater fishing in Florida is different than in the northeast, and the money raised through licensing is put to better use in Florida. But the price for a Florida license is beginning to look a bit expensive.

Look at the fees charged to non-residents; $17 for a 3-day license and $30 for a seven-day license? Tourists are getting gouged. It might be better just to charge a non-resident $25 for the year and be done with it. It should reduce overhead and it certainly should look a lot more friendly to the tourists.

loscabos writes:

How about, "Catch and Release Only," No license for anyone? If the environmentalists get more money into the pockets of our legislators; however, I'm afraid we'll see here in Marco and the 10,000, catch and release only with licenses costing out the WHAZOO for everyone.

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