OLR Bill Analysis
AN ACT CONCERNING CERTAIN COMMERCIAL FISHERY LICENSURE REFORMS.
This bill makes numerous changes to the commercial fishing statutes. Among other things, the bill:
1. expands the species the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) regulates to include whelk (also called conch), which the Department of Agriculture (DoAg) currently regulates and continues to do under the bill (see COMMENT);
2. (a) establishes, and sets fees for, a whelk license, a restricted commercial fishing license, and a restricted commercial lobster pot fishing license, (b) establishes a fee for a quota-managed species endorsement, and (c) decreases the fee for a personal use lobster fishing license;
3. establishes an annual renewal period for limited access licenses under which a license holder must apply for renewal annually by March 31 or the license will be retired;
4. limits (a) the transferability of certain resident limited access licenses to state residents and (b) a temporary license reissued because of a license holder's temporary incapacity to the shorter of 12 months or the period of incapacity; and
5. makes a matter of public record (a) the identity of license, permit, registration, and endorsement holders and (b) aggregate landings data grouped by species, month, and statistical catch area.
The bill also changes the penalties associated with violating the commercial fishing statutes. It:
1. increases the general penalty for violating the commercial fishing licensing statutes from a fine of up to $500, up to 30 days imprisonment, or both, to a class C misdemeanor (up to $500 fine, up to three months imprisonment, or both) for a first offense and class B misdemeanor (up to $1,000 fine, up to six months imprisonment, or both) for a subsequent offense;
2. decreases the penalty for violating blue crab sport fishing regulations from a fine of up to $500, up to 30 days imprisonment, or both to an infraction;
3. increases the penalty for falsifying a quota-managed species report submitted to the DEEP commissioner from an infraction to a class D misdemeanor (up to a $250 fine, up to 30 days imprisonment, or both); and
4. allows the commissioner to suspend a person's license, permit, registration, or endorsement if he or she fails to report information (including employment data, boats and devices used to fish, and catch and landings information) to the commissioner as required by existing law.
The bill also (1) streamlines current terminology by assigning specific terms to commonly understood licenses and activities and (2) makes other minor, technical, and conforming changes.
EFFECTIVE DATE: January 1, 2016
Under current law, DEEP regulates certain species for commercial fishing purposes, including bait species, crabs, lobsters, finfish, horseshoe crabs, sea scallops, and squid. The bill expands the species DEEP regulates to include whelk. Together, the bill refers to all of these as “regulated species.”
Existing law, unchanged by the bill, allows the DoAg commissioner to issue licenses to people who take conchs (i.e., whelk) (CGS § 26-219). Thus, under the bill, people may either obtain a conch license from DoAg or a whelk license from DEEP, or both, but both licenses seek to regulate the same species and do so in different ways, as described below. (see COMMENT).
The two licenses carry different penalties. Under the bill, taking one-half bushel of whelk daily without a license is a class C misdemeanor for the first offense and a class B misdemeanor for subsequent offenses. Under the agriculture law, taking more than one-half bushel of conch daily without a license is a class D misdemeanor.
The bill also contains an internal conflict. Line 301 specifies that a license is needed to take one-half bushel or more of whelk daily. But line 443 says a license is needed only when taking more than one-half bushel daily.
Under the bill, a whelk license from DEEP costs $100 and it expires on the December 31 following its issuance. Under the agriculture law, a conch license costs $100 and is valid for one year from its date of issuance.
NEW FEES AND LICENSES
Quota-managed Species Endorsement
The bill establishes a $15 fee for a quota-managed species endorsement. A “quota-managed species” is a regulated species DEEP manages through a seasonal or annual commercial harvest limit.
Existing regulations set possession limits (i.e., quotas) for various species (e.g., summer flounder, black sea bass, and scup) and require a person to hold a DEEP-issued endorsement to fish these species (Conn. Agencies Regs. § 26-159a-1 et seq.). The bill explicitly prohibits a person from possessing or landing a quota-managed species unless he or she, or the owner of the principal commercial fishing vessel used to take the species, holds a DEEP-issued endorsement. The commissioner may waive the endorsement requirement for someone possessing only a small amount of the species as determined by the commissioner.
Under the bill, the commissioner may revoke a person's commercial vessel permit when that person is convicted of, or upon the forfeiture of a bond taken upon any complaint for, possessing the greater of (1) more than 20% in excess of the possession limit for the quota-managed species or (2) 50 pounds.
Restricted Commercial Fishing License
The bill establishes a restricted commercial fishing license, which costs $125 for residents and $250 for non-residents. It defines “restricted commercial fishing” as (1) commercial fishing by use of hook and line to take squid and finfish, other than American shad or bait species or (2) the taking of menhaden by use of a gill net that is up to 200 feet long, set manually, and retrieved and personally attended to when in use. A license expires on the December 31 following its issuance.
Restricted Commercial Lobster Pot Fishing License
The bill also establishes a restricted commercial lobster pot fishing license, which costs $125 for residents and $250 for non-residents. Under the bill, “restricted commercial lobster pot fishing” means commercial fishing by only the use of up to 50 lobster pots to take and land regulated species other than blue crab. A license expires on the December 31 following its issuance.
Personal Use Lobster Fishing License
The bill decreases, from $120 to $60, the fee for a personal use lobster fishing license. “Personal use lobster fishing” means (1) using up to 10 lobster pots to take lobsters and finfish for personal use or (2) taking lobsters for personal use by hand or skin or scuba diving. Any finfish taken must be (1) taken incidental to lobster fishing and (2) in accordance with recreational fishery creel limits, length limits, and seasons adopted in accordance with state law. Under existing law, a license expires on the December 31 following its issuance.
LIMITED ACCESS LICENSES
The bill defines a “limited access license” as any endorsement, license, permit, or registration, the number of which is limited either by statute or the DEEP commissioner. For example, this includes quota-managed species endorsements, specified limited access licenses (i.e., commercial lobster pot, principal commercial, and general commercial fishing licenses), and associated commercial fishing vessel permits. The specified limited access licenses may only be issued to people who held one at any time from June 1, 1995 to December 31, 2003, as under existing law.
Under current law, all commercial fishing licenses, registrations, and permits expire on the December 31 following their issuance. A person may purchase a new license, registration, or permit at any time during the calendar year and it will remain valid until December 31 of that year. The bill extends this to endorsements.
But for limited access licenses, the bill establishes a specific annual renewal period. The license expires December 31, but may be renewed through March 31. Anyone who does not renew his or her limited access license by March 31 forfeits the license (i.e., allows it to be retired). A person whose license is retired may apply for a new limited access license through any means the commissioner establishes.
The bill allows the DEEP commissioner, in managing the number of limited licenses issued, to (1) consider an applicant's recent fishing activity, (2) use a random drawing, (3) lease up to 20% of the available harvest of any quota-managed species, or (4) use other methods to manage the number of fishing participants.
Transferring Certain Limited Access Licenses
By law, fishing licenses, registrations, and permits are generally nontransferable, except as the law otherwise authorizes. The bill specifies that endorsements are similarly nontransferable.
The law allows the DEEP commissioner to temporarily reissue certain limited access licenses, when a license holder becomes temporarily incapacitated, to an immediate family member or crew member. This applies to active principal commercial fishing, general commercial fishing, and commercial lobster pot fishing licenses. Current law limits a temporary license to the period of incapacity. The bill instead limits a temporary license to the shorter of the period of incapacity or 12 consecutive months.
In addition, current law allows the commissioner to authorize the holder of one of these limited access licenses to transfer it to another person if he or she held the license and landed regulated species for at least five of the eight previous calendar years and reported landings to the commissioner as required by law. The bill further limits transfers of these licenses. Under the bill, (1) the person transferring the license must be the primary owner of the vessel that is permitted to conduct fishing activity, (2) the vessel must be at least 30 feet long, and (3) the person receiving the license must be purchasing the vessel. Additionally, if the license to be transferred is a resident license, the person receiving it must also be a state resident.
By law, upon the transfer of a license, the original license holder becomes ineligible for a renewal of that license, but he or she may acquire a new license through a subsequent transfer. The law also prohibits a transfer while a license, registration, or permit is under suspension or if a party to the transfer had a license, registration, or permit revoked or suspended within the preceding 12 months. Additionally, if the holder of one of these limited access licenses dies, the commissioner may authorize the transfer of the license for a two year period.
The bill makes certain commercial fishery information public. Currently, the law makes confidential any individually identifiable information from any report that license holders are required to submit to the DEEP commissioner. But it allows the commissioner to release the information for research, management and development, and law enforcement purposes.
The bill makes public:
1. the identity of people holding any license, permit, registration, or endorsement issued under the commercial fisheries law, and any associated fishing privileges established by law or regulation and
2. catch or landings data aggregated by species, month, and statistical catch area.
The bill expands the DEEP commissioner's authority to regulate commercial fishing activities by allowing him to determine limits on at-sea fish processing related to preserving species identification and preventing wasteful harvest practices.
The bill allows a vessel used to take regulated species to use a fish pump only when offloading a catch at a shore-side facility. Current law prohibits any use of a fish pump.
The bill sets up a duplicative and conflicting regulatory scheme for whelk fishing licenses. Existing law, unchanged by the bill, allows the DoAg commissioner to issue licenses to people who take conchs (i.e., whelk) (CGS § 26-219). The bill allows the DEEP commissioner to issue licenses to people who take whelk. Thus, under the bill, people may either obtain a conch license from DoAg or a whelk license from DEEP, or both, but both licenses seek to regulate the same species and do so in different ways, as discussed in more detail above.
Joint Favorable Substitute