Just in time for start of the season, legislators trim fishing license fees

Pete DeGregorio has seen it for months: Customers come into his New Haven bait and tackle store, stock up on gear to go fishing in nearby Long Island Sound, then find out a license will cost them $40 per person.

“It’s ridiculous. It’s just too expensive and people are walking out,” said DeGregorio, owner of Dee’s Bait & Tackle.

Lawmakers decided on Wednesday they agree with DeGregorio, and approved a rollback of the fees for fishing, hunting, camping, boating and other recreational activities they increased in September — just in time for Saturday’s opening day for the inland fishing season.

“These increases were put in there at the last minute and we shouldn’t have done that,” said Sen. Donald J. DeFronzo, D-New Britain. Now the fees will increase by just 35 percent from where they were a year ago, instead of the 100 percent increases passed by the legislature in September.

The change means a fishing license will cost state residents $28, rather than $40. The $28 fee for a hunting license is now reduced to $19. Camping at the popular Hammonasset Beach State Park drops from $30 a night to $20.

Dennis Schain, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection which collects the fees, said the reduced charges would take effect today, but would not be applied retroactively to those who bought licenses earlier in the year.

DeGregorio blames the higher license fees, which took effect last Oct. 1, for decreased business in his store–a 30 perent drop in revenue for the first three months of this year, and a 50 percent decrease in fishing licenses purchased.

Schain said DEP has not determined that the higher fees resulted in reduced sales. When fees were raised 40 percent in 2004, there was no significant impact on the number hunting and fishing licenses issued, he said.

Last year there were 181,000 fishing and 49,000 hunting licenses issued in the state, he said.

The decrease in fees are expected to cost the state $5.4 million from a decline in expected revenue, and traffic violators are going to pick up the cost. Minimum fines for infractions will increase from $15 to $35 to $50.

“This is fair. This is a fine for someone violating the law,” said DeFronzo, who as Senate chairman of the Transportation Committee spearheaded the change. “Our state’s budget problems shouldn’t make it difficult for someone in this state to go fishing or hunting.”

The traffic violation fees have not increased in more than a decade, Defronzo said.

This scale back in fishing, hunting and other recreation fees makes Connecticut prices more comparable with surrounding states, according to recent legislative reports comparing these prices.

DeGregorio said he is thrilled with the change, but would rather the fishing fee be thrown out completely.

“You don’t have to pay for other sports – basketball and tennis are free. Why do we make people pay to fish?” he said. “But I will take what I can get.”