- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources plans to raise the cost of most commercial fishing and crabbing licenses to offset money spent by the state for fisheries management and law enforcement.
For watermen, especially ones who work on the water as a part-time job, the higher fees add to the escalating cost of bait, fuel and equipment.
But the increases, which go into effect Aug. 1, are needed to maintain the level of management and to keep fisheries open, according to two statewide watermen’s associations that helped develop the new price structure with DNR officials.
“We have to increase all those licenses fees because they haven’t been increased for a number of years,” Mick Blackistone, executive director of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, said.
The Chesapeake Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Association, which splintered from the other state association several years ago, also helped draft the new price structure.
Gina Hunt, deputy director of DNR fishery service, said most or all of the fees associated with commercial licenses had not changed since 1994. “We didn’t have the dollars to continue to provide the services at the level we had been providing” to commercial fisheries, Hunt said.
DNR officials presented to the watermen groups scenarios of reduced services and limiting fisheries. The associations in turn recognized the need for changes.
“The watermen prepared those fees themselves,” Hunt said, to determine how much licenses and fees needed to be raised to bring in $1.6 million.
“We worked on it ... and we knew we had to do it,” Blackistone said.
In recent years, more than half of the money used for fisheries management has come out of the state’s general fund.
“We passed legislation in 2012 for cost recovery for the department,” Blackistone said.
Top on the list of new revenue is a harvester’s registration fee of $215 that will be charged to all commercial watermen, except fishing guides or seafood dealers. “That’s brand new,” Blackistone said.
The fee will bring in nearly $1.2 million from the state’s 5,400 commercial watermen.
Costs for most licenses will increase and new permit fees will be charged to bring in an additional $400,000.
For instance, costs associated with a limited crab catcher license, which allows a waterman to set up to 50 pots and trotlines, will go from $60 to $335 a year. There are 2,886 such licenses issued this year.
The license currently costs $50, plus a $10 seafood marketing surcharge. Starting next season, that same crabber will pay $100 for the license, $20 for the seafood marketing surcharge and $215 for the new harvesters registration fee.
For licenses allowing up to 600 pots, the cost will rise from $170 to $250 while the licenses for up to 900 pots will change from $190 to $300 a year.
An oyster harvester license will double from $50 to $100, as will a resident fishing guide license.
Permits for certain fisheries that were once free will now have a charge, including horseshoe crab, flounder, black sea bass, yellow perch and snapper licenses that will now each cost $25.
Any waterman who sells crabs or fish must now be a licensed dealer (at a cost of $50) or sell only to other licensed dealers and not directly to the public.
Blackistone said that while he would not expect these fees to increase the price of seafood for consumers, he acknowledged it was one more expense for watermen.
Calvert County Watermen’s Association President Tommy Zinn said the increasing fees are “just another burden” on local watermen resulting in higher operating fees.
“It’s really a hardship for the watermen,” Zinn said, adding that the increases are “coming at a bad time with the economy.”
“This is a lot of money for a lot of the smaller part-time watermen,” Blackistone said. “It’s just another cost on top of a hard way to make a living. But they have to pay their fair share.”
Zinn said he anticipates some part-time watermen to either give up their license or sell it.
Pat Norris of Ridge is one of those part-time watermen, and in addition to holding his own 300-crab pot license, he works with his brother. He said many watermen aren’t aware about the hit they will have to take when they reapply by the end of August for next year’s licenses.
“I can see going up [in fees], but not doubling,” Norris said, adding that the increased fees should have instead been phased in over a several years.
“It’s sort of a bad deal for the watermen,” Zinn said.
The harvester’s registration flat fee will have a particularly disproportionate effect on smaller watermen, Norris said. He also questioned how residents would react if the prices of crabs go up to make up for the increased licensing fees.
The state has also decided to get rid of the apprenticeship program, which paired aspiring watermen with mentors aboard commercial fishing boats. The program required the apprentice to log many hours and take classes before he or she could purchase a commercial license. “It was somewhat of a deterrent,” because of the time involved, Hunt said.
Staff writer Amanda Scott contributed to this report.