Fishing for Money
Where’s the money going to come from?
Legislation passed this year (House Bill 1372) mandates that Department of Natural Resources’ program management costs for commercial fishing operations be covered by funds generated in that sector.
There is no good news on rockfish. When located, stripers are reticent to bite. Trolling is the best method with limits of middling rock possible, plus some bluefish in the 16- to 18-inch range. Croaker remain small. Jumbo spot (12 inches and larger) are showing up in much better numbers. Belvedere Shoals and up into Eastern Bay are good places to look for them. Perch fishing remains excellent. Spanish mackerel are reported in good numbers at the mouth of the Eastern Bay and around Poplar Island. Crabbing is better, but the majority of the population remains just undersized. September should see some bigger jimmies.
In 2013, commercial fishing sector fees will likely fall $2.9 million short, generating only 61 percent of the cost of managing the fishery. That’s the conclusion of the department’s Cost Recovery Summer Study.
To meet the legally mandated cost recovery, DNR is recommending the first increase in commercial licensing fees in more than 15 years.
Sketching the Industry
Maryland licenses some 5,500 commercial watermen, though only about 1,200 fish full-time for their livelihood.
The Maryland commercial fishing industry is allocated the majority of the crab harvest and roughly half of the striped bass and yellow perch harvest. Commercial fishermen also take the majority of white perch. Virtually all of the commercial crab catch is sold in Maryland, but the finfish are, for the most part, exported out of state.
The average annual fee for a commercial license is estimated to represent only two percent of the value of the dockside landings. The most expensive, the Tidal Finfish License, costs $300 a year. Licenses for crabbing and specific gear use are much cheaper. Commercial fees have not been adjusted since 1994.
Driving the Tide
At the same time, regulatory costs have risen.
Commercial oyster poaching and illegal gill netting and rockfish sales have brought on new legislation and regulations. Under Fisheries chief Tom O’Connell, DNR has worked to stifle illegal activities, establish better control over wholesale seafood transactions and provide a cohesive and accountable budget process.
Transfers that covered past deficits — both fee income from recreational fishing and monies from the General Fund — are unlikely in today’s austere economy.
Without more money, commercial programs and services — and even fishing seasons — could be cut.
Fishing for Remedies
The Tidal Fisheries Advisory Commission — 11 commercial watermen and one recreational fishing representative — is considering ways to close the shortfall. Suggested solutions range from doubling the cost of a recreational fishing license and transferring the revenue to the commercial sector to include a line item for voluntary contributions on the Maryland Tax Form and creating a special tax on seafood.
Over the next two weeks, DNR and the commission will consider how much of a license fee increase commercial watermen can bear and how program costs might be reduced.
Within six weeks, DNR’s recommendations will be presented to the General Assembly. There the final decisions will be made on how to reconcile DNR’s budget requirements, the services provided by DNR and the amount of revenues supporting them.
At that stage, there is no predicting what will happen. We’ll keep you informed.