Among 30 amendments to his proposed executive budget, Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a permanent repeal of a controversial fee for saltwater fishermen — a repeal that Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr., I-Sag Harbor, has been fighting for since the fee's inception.
The saltwater fishing license was enacted in October 2009, requiring anglers 16 an older to pay $10 for an annual license or $150 for a lifetime license. The annual fee was initially going to be $27, before the state got pushback.
The towns of Southampton. East Hampton, Shelter Island, Brookhaven, Southold, Huntington and Oyster Bay took the Department of Environmental Conservation to court over the fee, and a judge struck it down in those towns.
The 2011, under that year's state budget, a two-year moratorium was placed on the fee and license, and they were replaced with a free registration requirement. The temporary repeal is slated to expire on Dec. 31, 2013.
Thiele sponsored a bill in the current legislative session to make the repeal permanent, and his office reported Monday that Cuomo has added the measure to his budget proposal.
"The idea of a saltwater fishing license was ill-conceived from the outset," Thiele said. "Not only was it a tax on one of the fundamental rights that Long Island residents have had since colonial times, but it was a burden to the recreational fishing industry at a time when the recession was taking its toll on the local economy."
The state will once again recognize that the right to fish should be free, and that recreational fishing is a critical part of the Long Island economy, he said.
Sen. Lee Zeldin, R-Shirley, who sponsored the Senate version of the repeal legislation, shared Thiele's sentiments. "Assemblyman Thiele and I have been fighting hard against this fee since it was enacted and we are looking forward to its permanent elimination in this year's state budget," Zeldin said. "This is great news for so many Long Islanders who should be able to enjoy recreational fishing without the burden of yet another cost, and it will encourage visitors to come to Long Island and experience some of the best fishing in the state."
The budget is expected to be approved by April 1, according to Thiele's office.