Tax A Mistake, Anglers Get Refunds!

The battle over the state imposed saltwater fishing licenses here on eastern Long Island is at an end. Last Friday, in a sensational announcement, Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the licenses not only rescinded, but that money be paid back to all those who had purchased them! Over $2 million dollars are involved. It will go to charter boat captains, sportfishermen, surfcasters and anyone else who, to keep out of the controversy or to keep from getting a fine, bought one here on Long Island. It will go to the 9,000 fishermen who bought the “lifetime” fishing licenses for $300. All the rest too, which include 200 charter boat captains and about 23,000 regular fishermen.

The law was put into effect in 2009 over the objections of our State Senator Kenneth LaValle and our State Assemblyman Fred Thiele. You could get the licenses at State Police offices, at Post Offices, at State Offices and at marinas and fishing tackle shops. The fishing tackle shops and marinas went on strike and refused to do this. Assemblyman Thiele wrote to the governor demanding the law be repealed. (There’s no saltwater upstate.) Most people refused to get one. And the State Ordinance Enforcement officer said he didn’t have the manpower to give tickets out to those without them. Also, almost immediately, lawsuits against the state were filed by the Town Trustees of East Hampton and Southampton and five other towns. There was the Dongan Patent, issued in 1686, that gives the townspeople the right to have the use of our ocean waters, bay bottoms, lakes, ponds, harbors and rivers for their personal use, which includes any recreational purpose they want, especially fishing, which brings food to the table, without interference by others. Trustees were elected (and still are) to defend these rights. It is an outrageous breach of this patent. Soon, a judge hearing the case, agreed with them. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation appealed. [expand]

The striking down of this law and the return of the monies is a great victory not only for fishermen, but for the general public, who sometimes fight for their rights yet feel it is all in vain. Here is an example of something that got done.

“It is not the State’s duty to put a tax on fishing,” the Governor said in repealing the law and ordering the issuance of the refunds. “Fishing is not the same as bridge tunnel tolls.”

In its place, fishermen will be required to register in a newly set up National Saltwater Angler Registry, which will help the DEC monitor the fisheries. But it will be free.

One man, Stuart Vorpahl, who has been protesting the use of State fishing licenses for years, will not benefit from Governor Cuomo’s decision.

Vorpahl, an East Hampton Bonacker, has been carrying aboard his fishing boat a copy of the Patent, tacked up in his wheelhouse next to all the gauges. He’d received many summonses from the Coast Guard and others for failure to have the proper paperwork even after pointing out the patent, and he’s many times gone to court, his actions defended by the East Hampton Town Trustees. He retired from fishing two years ago. And he sold his boat—largely because of the State’s harassment. Now he works repairing boats in their slips and in his garage. He will get nothing.

This decision also should be an encouragement to all those residents of Southampton who are fighting to end all parking restrictions at the end of a quiet and remote road called Noyac Bay Drive, where it leads down to a beach facing an inlet.

The members of two private clubs, the Northampton Beach Club and the Northampton Yacht Club, where if you join one you can join the other, are unhappy with the fact that this public road slices between the two and allows members of the great unwashed to park their cars at the end of it to access the publicly owned beach. Using a deception—they declared that there have been many robberies at the Yacht Club, when in fact none have been reported in three years—they asked the town to make this road a “no parking” road. Let the people come down, have a look, but that’s all. No parking.

The Town bought into this and did so a year ago. But there has been no end to the townspeople demanding that this restriction be removed since. There have been t-shirts made, demonstrations held. It is not the town’s job to let a few seize a town asset from the rest of the taxpayers. If they thought they could, this could be a disastrous precedent. Recently, it’s been on the town agenda to do just that, but they have not brought it to a vote. One of the Town Councilmen, Chris Nuzzi, has fundraisers for his re-election campaigns at this club.

Three weeks ago when I wrote about this, I said that if the Town and Trustees can’t or won’t defend the accesses to the beaches, then Governor Cuomo should be brought into this picture to make it right. As this still remains unresolved, I continue to think this should take place. The state is where the old Patent is from.

There are many wrongs to be righted. And if it’s wrong in a big way and the public keeps at it, things change.

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