CA fishing licenses to go bureaucratic

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Fishing licenses to go bureaucratic

Tom Stienstra, San Francisco Chronicle.

Wednesday, December 5, 2001

IN A power play over how fishing licenses are sold in California, the little guys -- owners of small fishing shops and operators of party boats -- likely will get squeezed out by the DFG in the coming year.

Yet managers of large retailers are praising the DFG decision to implement a new automated, electronic-based system.

The result is that fishing licenses will be available at fewer locations for California's 3 million anglers but will be much easier for large stores to process.

The new system will do away with the current licenses, which are sold out of booklets, with information handwritten by the purchaser.

Instead, license agents will lease an electronic unit from the DFG and pay for a dedicated phone line, where the information is processed electronically via a modem. Each license then will be printed on the spot.

"They'll never run out of licenses and stamps," said Antoinette Lobos of the License and Revenue Branch of the DFG, who is coordinating the program.

However, many small outlets will be cut off by the DFG if they do not agree to the new program, which will cost them about $750 per year. Of 2,400 locations where licenses now are sold, Lobos predicted that about 30 percent would refuse the new program and be cut off by next September.

The DFG says electronic automation is a natural and necessary step to streamline the license process and get the money quickly to DFG coffers. Similar systems already are in place in Washington, Utah and Texas.

The first big retailer to sign up for the program was Big 5 Sporting Goods, with 160 stores in California.

"Every aspect of this program is beneficial to Big 5 Sporting Goods," said Gabe Friederichsen, senior operations manager. "Can you imagine 160 stores, each with significant inventory of licenses and stamps, and all of it comes here to the corporate office? Just managing that inventory is incredible. The automated system instantly solves that."

Such is not the case for the smaller, family-owned businesses, especially in rural areas.

"The logistics of this would make it very tough on us and other small bait shops," said Keith Fraser of Loch Lomond Live Bait in San Rafael. "Space for the unit, the time to process licenses, and the monthly cost are all problems. If I have 30 people waiting for bait Saturday morning, I can't be spending time asking your age and the color of your eyes to punch in for the new electronic license."

Fraser and many other owners of small shops say that by having to pay leasing fees for the new electronic units and contract for dedicated phone lines, they will be subsidizing the DFG license program. That is because license agents are paid only $1.40 when they sell a license ($29.40), 30 cents for a one-day license ($6), and 20 cents for a striped bass stamp ($3.70).

In calls to several small outdoors shops in rural areas in Northern California, no owner said he or she would agree to the new program.

In the Bay Area, the practice of party-boat skippers selling licenses and stamps on their boats, such as at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, also is likely jeopardized.

"This is a bad idea for us," said Gordon Hough of Benicia, owner and operator of the Morning Star party boat. "What are we going to do the morning of a trip when, as usual, six to eight people arrive with no license and we have no way to sell them one?"

Lobos said the DFG will try to negotiate a solution.

"We're going to sit down with the party-boat operators and figure out how to make it work, how to accommodate their needs," Lobos said.

E-mail Tom Stienstra at tstienstra@sfchronicle.com.
 

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