New Saltwater Fishing License Goes into Effect

Wilmington, NC – Drop a fishing line in North Carolina's coastal waters, and you'd better be carrying one of the state's new fishing licenses.

More than 3,600 people have bought the fishing licenses since the first of the year, when the licenses both went on sale, and became mandatory for any fishing in the state's coastal waters.

However, Nancy Fish of the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries says the state won't start handing out tickets until they're sure fishermen have had a chance to hear about the program.

Until then, the Division's 58 officers will be talking with the public, Fish said, "to see how well the public is informed and the response they're getting back."

The basic $15 annual licenses are required for any recreational fishing in salt or brackish waters in the state. Previously, the state had only regulated fresh-water fishing. The licenses can be purchased online or from bait and tackle and other sporting goods stores. Fishing piers and charter boat services can obtain umbrella licenses for their patrons.

Fish says the state expects to reap millions of dollars in revenue from the new fishing licenses, although less than the $15 million originally estimated.

According to Appalachian State economics professor John Whitehead, much of the organized opposition to the new program comes from commercial fishermen, worried that licensing may increase the political clout of recreational anglers.

When it comes to catch quotas for a number of fish species, Whitehead says, "There's a tug of war between the amount of fish that both groups can catch."

The licenses are hardly universally popular with recreational anglers, though.

A survey of recreational fishermen several years ago found that 15-20% said they would not pay for a license. However, Whitehead believes most will eventually pay up.

Fishermen spend so much on their hobby already, Whitehead says, "even if it's a shore fishing trip or if [it's] a pier fishing trip. Usually people will drive several miles, maybe several hundred miles and they'll take 10 to 30 trips a year, and the $15 fee is a very small percentage of those total costs."