New Saltwater Fishing License Comes With Fee

OCEAN CITY – For the second time in as many years, local anglers will see another significant change in the licensing requirements to fish in and around the resort and this time around they will have to pay for it.

Starting Jan. 1, anglers who fish in Maryland will be required to purchase a single, comprehensive saltwater sportfishing license. For 25 years, recreational anglers fishing in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries have been required to purchase and hold a saltwater fishing license, but the coastal waters in and around Ocean City have been exempt.

This year, however, local anglers, with a few exceptions, will be required to purchase the new Chesapeake Bay and Coastal Sportfishing License, which, as the name implies, will now cover Maryland waters off the Atlantic coast including the coastal bays. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) implemented the new licensing structure this year in order to comply with a federal law calling for a national database of saltwater anglers.

On Jan. 1, 2010, most anglers were required to register with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s saltwater angler registry program, which was designed to better manage saltwater fish populations. The federal program was implemented as a bridge to the DNR’s new comprehensive saltwater licensing program set to be implemented on Jan. 1.

Starting on that date, NOAA’s National Saltwater Angler Registration will no longer be valid and those who are not exempt for a wide variety of reasons will be required to obtain the state’s new saltwater fishing license. DNR officials said this week the changes in the requirements and exemptions are significant.

“We strongly encourage everyone who plans to fish in Maryland to take the time to learn about these changes and how residents and visitors, including those exempt from holding a license, will be impacted,” said DNR Fisheries Director Tom O’Connell.

There are several exemptions from the new licensing requirements, however. For example, any angler under 16 years of age will not be required to obtain the new license, nor will anglers possessing a valid commercial tidal fishing license or who are fishing from a licensed charter boat. There are several exemptions related to reciprocity with other states already requiring a saltwater fishing license as well as exemptions related to fishing from private docks and piers or on designated free fishing days or in free fishing areas.

While the National Saltwater Angler Registry required last year was free, Maryland’s new saltwater angler license program comes with fees attached. For example, an annual license, valid for the entire year, will cost state residents $15 and non-residents $22.50. A seven-day Chesapeake Bay and Coastal Sport License will cost residents $6 and non-residents $12.

A consolidated license will allow everyone on board a recreational fishing vessel to fish in the coastal bays and the Atlantic without individual licenses, provided the boat owner purchases the consolidated license for $50. However, the individual anglers must still register with the DNR.

On the surface, the intent of the new angler registry program is to allow state and federal fisheries officials to collect better data and to document catch reports in the interest of making informed decisions with fishery management plans.

“Marylanders are blessed with exciting, abundant recreational fishing opportunities,” said O’Connell. “These changes will help us gather information critical to managing these fisheries for the long term.”