There are changes to saltwater fishing licenses which shop owners say few anglers have been aware of.

By DALE P. FAULKNER / Sun Staff Writer

Although many of his customers are learning about it for the first time when they enter his store, Steve Travisono says Rhode Island's new requirement for saltwater fishing licenses isn't creating any problems.

Travisono, manager of Breachway Bait & Tackle in Charlestown, said recently he has sold about 370 licenses since mid-June. The license requirement is part of the federal government's effort to collect data on recreational fishing and to establish a national recreational fishing registry.

"Most of the people are not aware of the requirement because many of them are tourists and they're just here for one or two weeks, but I haven't heard any complaints," Travisono said.

The federal registry program gives states the option of developing their own license programs as a substitute for the federal registry. Federal licenses are available for free this year but could cost as much as $25 annually starting in 2011, officials said.

Travisono said he supported the new program as long as the money collected is used for fishing-related activities. The Rhode Island law creating the state program requires that the license fee revenues be used to administer and enforce the license program, and to manage and enhance the state's fishing programs.

The Connecticut law establishing the requirement for the licenses mandates that revenue from the licenses be used for conservation and preservation programs in the state.

Robin Nash, who owns Quonny Bait and Tackle in Charlestown with her husband Jeff, had a different outlook on the license requirement, saying it was extremely "time consuming" for small shop owners. So far, rather than issuing Rhode Island licenses, Nash said she has registered about 400 anglers who frequent her store into the federal program.

Licenses are available regionally from participating bait and tackle shops in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York or may be obtained online via the websites of Rhode Island's Department of Environmental Management, Connecticut's Department of Environmental Protection and New York's Department of Environmental Conservation.

Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York have reciprocal agreements by which a license purchased in one state can be used in any of the other three states. Some town clerks' offices in Connecticut also sell the licenses.

Nash questioned whether Rhode Island had publicized the license program properly.

"No one is informed or knows about the reciprocal aspect," she said.

Rhode Island residents are charged $7 annually and non-residents $10 annually. A seven-day license is also available for $5.

Nash said she would likely feel forced to become a state license vendor next year once the federal fee is established, but questioned the fairness of being required to use many of her store's resources to issue a state license. For the most part, Nash said, her customers do not seem to mind the license or federal registration requirement.

Connecticut residents pay $10 while out of state visitors are charged $15. Anyone over 65 can get a license for free in either state. Both states require residents who are 16 or older to have a license. Rhode Island residents who are on leave from active military duty or disabled are exempt from the license requirement.

Anglers who fish on licensed party or charter boats are not required to obtain individual licenses.

In Rhode Island, where the requirement for saltwater fishing licenses went into effect in January, 13,868 licenses have been sold to date; there have been about 30,000 federal registrations in the state. In Connecticut, where the law went into effect in July 2009, 32,172 licenses were sold in 2009 and 8,873 free licenses were issued; as of May 27, 61,916 paid licenses had been sold this year and 12,950 free licenses were issued.

Bob Ballou, acting chief of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Division of Fish and Wildlife, said compliance with the law appears to be increasing by the week as awareness grows.

In another year or so, Ballou said, data based on the number of licenses sold and the creation of an amateur angler national "phone book" will give environmental officials a much clearer understanding of the volume and types of fish being caught. That information, in turn, will be used to assess current management practices, including catch per day and fish size limits.

Federal officials currently rely on a national random phone survey as well as interviews of amateur anglers conducted by environmental officials to determine the number and types of fish being caught. Ballou called the system "woefully inadequate." Using the current system to determine statistics on a state by state basis is even more difficult, he said.

Ballou also said he expected the number of state licenses issued to jump next year once the federal registration fee is established.