PA 15-52—sHB 6733

Environment Committee

AN ACT CONCERNING CERTAIN COMMERCIAL FISHERY LICENSURE REFORMS

SUMMARY: This act makes numerous changes in the commercial fishing statutes. Among other things, the act:

1. expands the marine species the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) regulates to include whelk (also called conch), which was previously regulated by the Department of Agriculture (DoAg);

2. (a) establishes, and sets fees for, a whelk license, restricted commercial fishing license, and 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 the (a) transfer of certain resident limited access licenses to state residents and (b) duration of a temporary license reissued because of a license holder's temporary incapacity to 12 months or the period of incapacity, whichever is shorter; and

5. makes a matter of public record (a) the identity of license, permit, registration, and endorsement holders and (b) aggregate catch or landings data grouped by species, month, and statistical catch area.

The act also changes the penalties for 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, imprisonment for up to 30 days, or both, to a class C misdemeanor for a first offense and class B misdemeanor for a subsequent offense (see TABLE ON PENALTIES) and makes the taking or possession of each animal in violation of the law a separate 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 (see TABLE ON PENALTIES); and

4. allows the commissioner to suspend the license, permit, registration, or endorsement of a person who fails to report information (including employment data, boats and devices used to fish, and catch and landing information) to him as required by existing law.

The act also (1) streamlines 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

WHELK FISHING

By law, DEEP regulates certain marine species for commercial fishing purposes, including bait species, crabs, lobsters, finfish, horseshoe crabs, sea scallops, and squid. The act expands the species DEEP regulates to include whelk. Together, the act refers to all of these as “regulated species.

Prior law allowed the DoAg commissioner to issue licenses to people taking conchs (i. e. , whelk). Thus, by repealing the agriculture statute, the act transfers regulatory authority for whelk from DoAg to DEEP.

The act increases the penalty for taking more than one-half bushel of whelk daily without a license. Under the act, this is a class C misdemeanor for the first offense and a class B misdemeanor for subsequent offenses. Under prior agriculture law, it was a class D misdemeanor.

Under the act, a whelk license from DEEP costs $100 and expires on the December 31 following its issuance. Under prior agriculture law, a conch license cost $100 and was valid for one year from its date of issuance.

NEW FEES AND LICENSES

Quota-managed Species Endorsement

The act 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 Reg. 26-159a-1 et seq. ). The act 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.

Under the act, 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 more than 20% above the possession limit for the quota-managed species or 50 pounds, whichever is greater.

Restricted Commercial Fishing License

The act 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 in which hook and line are used to take squid and finfish, other than American shad or bait species or (2) taking menhaden by use of a gill net that is up to 200 feet long, set, and retrieved, manually and personally attended to when in use. A license expires on the December 31 following its issuance.

Restricted Commercial Lobster Pot Fishing License

The act also establishes a restricted commercial lobster pot fishing license, which costs $125 for residents and $250 for non-residents. Under the act, “restricted commercial lobster pot fishing” means commercial fishing using only 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 act decreases, from $120 to $60, the fee for a personal use lobster fishing license. Under the act, “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, skin, or scuba diving. Finfish must be taken incidental to lobster fishing and in accordance with recreational fishery creel limits, length limits, and seasons adopted in accordance with state law. By law, a license expires on the December 31 following its issuance.

LIMITED ACCESS LICENSES

Definition

The act defines a “limited access license” as any endorsement, license, permit, or registration limited in number either by statute or the DEEP commissioner. 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 be issued only to people who held one at any time from June 1, 1995 to December 31, 2003.

Renewal

By 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 remains valid until December 31 of that year. The act extends these provisions to endorsements.

But for limited access licenses, the act establishes a specific annual renewal period. The license expires December 31 but may be renewed through March 31. If a person does not renew his or her limited access license by March 31 and associated commercial fishing vessel permit annually, the limited access license is retired. A person whose license is retired may apply for a new license through any means the DEEP commissioner establishes.

The act allows the 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 authorizes. Under the act, endorsements are similarly nontransferable.

The law allows the DEEP commissioner to temporarily reissue certain limited access licenses to an immediate family member or crew member when a license holder becomes temporarily incapacitated. Under the act, this applies to active principal commercial fishing, general commercial fishing, and commercial lobster pot fishing licenses. Prior law limited a temporary license to the period of incapacity. The act instead limits the duration of a temporary license to the period of incapacity or 12 consecutive months, whichever is shorter.

In addition, the 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. Under the act, if the license to be transferred is a resident license, the person receiving it must also be a state resident.

By law, the original license holder may not renew a license that he or she transfers, but he or she may acquire a new license through a subsequent transfer. The law also prohibits a transfer if a license, registration, or permit is under suspension or 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.

PUBLIC INFORMATION

The act makes certain commercial fishery information public. The law makes confidential any individually identifiable information from any report that license holders are required to submit to the DEEP commissioner. But the commissioner may release the information for research, management and development, and law enforcement purposes.

The act 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.

ADDITIONAL CHANGES

The act expands the DEEP commissioner's authority to regulate commercial fishing activities by allowing him to determine limits on processing fish at sea in order to preserve species identification and prevent wasteful harvest practices.

The act allows environmental tourism vessels to bring ashore (i. e. , land) regulated species. Prior law prohibited them from landing any regulated species. Under the act, an “environmental tourism vessel” is a vessel used to carry passengers for hire to learn about, observe, and collect marine or estuarine species using commercial fishing gear under the conditions specified in the related DEEP-issued permit.

The act allows a vessel used to take regulated species to use a fish pump when offloading a catch at a shore-side facility. Prior law prohibited any use of a fish pump.

OLR Tracking: JLK: CR: VR: bs