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No more free fishing from shore!

A bill passed by the Florida Legislature will do away with a 20-year license exemption for Florida anglers fishing from shore. For the first time those fishing from docks, bridges, piers, beaches and jetties will be required to buy a new $7.50 saltwater fishing license.

However, the bill approved as part of Florida’s $66.5 billion budget on May 5 (awaiting Governor Charlie Crist’s signature), also has several major benefits to Florida residents and anglers.

By requiring that ALL saltwater anglers have some sort of license, Florida anglers will be exempt from a new national recreational Saltwater Angler Registry that would have required all residents to purchase a $15 - $25 federal fishing license beginning Jan. 1, 2011.

The new federal saltwater fishing registry was mandated by Congress to improve how the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) collects data (used to make federal fishing rules) from recreational anglers.

The new license also will allow the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to capture millions of marine-related federal tax dollars Floridians have been paying for years. In addition to the direct income from each new license sold (estimated to be between $900,000 and $1.2 million) Florida will now also be eligible for an estimated $1.2 million additional dollars each year from the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Program – grant dollars that will be available to the FWC for recreational saltwater research, law enforcement, aquatic education, boating access and other fishery projects.

These funds come from federal excise taxes paid on fishing equipment, import duties, motorboat and small engine fuels and are distributed to states each year based on a formula that includes the state’s number of paid license holders. Florida has lost a share of those funds for the past 20 years due to the shoreline angler license exemption.

Florida resident saltwater anglers fishing from shore (or structure affixed to land) have been exempt from purchasing a saltwater license since it was created in 1989. Survey data indicate that about 71% of resident shoreline anglers do not currently purchase a regular $17 saltwater fishing license. The new $7.50 shoreline license is expected to affect between 115,000 and 185,000 anglers.

There are exemptions for: those who already have a regular saltwater fishing license, anglers on food stamps, temporary cash assistance and Medicaid (must have another form of ID), disabled anglers, children under 16, seniors 65 years of age and older and for those using a cane pole or line with no retrieving device fishing in their home county.

If signed by Crist, the new license would be available at retailers and county tax collectors’ offices on July 15. Enforcement would begin Aug. 1. Go to MyFWC.com for more information.

As part of the same law, the cost of special snook and lobster permits will increase beginning July 1, 2010. Lobster stamps will jump increase from $2 to $5; while an annual snook permit will jump from $2 to $10. The permits have cost $2 since 1989.

All monies collected through the above listed fees are required by law to go back to FWC for use in research, management and law enforcement related to each species. There was no increases in the cost of a standard saltwater fishing license ($17 per year) or non-resident licenses.

A 3-day non-resident license is $17; a 7-day license is $30; and a one-year license is $47. Out-of-state residents must buy a license to fish in Florida regardless if they fish from a boat, bridge or shore, unless fishing on a for-hire vessel (which has a license covering all on board).