Unless Fisherman's Wharf boat captain Erik Anfinson begins keeping a computer with wireless access and a printer on board when he takes tourists fishing, 2011 could welcome the skipper into a new era of financial hurt.
That's because on Jan. 1, the state Department of Fish and Game will implement its Automated License Data System, a web-based program of selling recreational fishing licenses that will replace on-the-spot sale of paper licenses. Sounds slick, except that the new system requires a specialized touch-screen computer, a printer, and specially sized waterproof printing paper that costs $1,840. Skippers who don't want to pay will no longer be able to sell licenses to would-be customers who arrive at the dock without them.
"This is going to be a huge problem for everyone with a party boat, unless they buy the computer system," said Anfinson, one of 11 captains at the wharf. The license is required of anyone older than 16 who fishes in state waters. "I'll be turning away half my customers."
Richard Reyes, a spokesman for the Department of Fish and Game, says sale of one-day licenses (popular among tourist fishermen, as opposed to the more costly year-long licenses usually bought by state residents) will not require the specialized computer or glossy printing paper and will still be available for instant purchase provided the vendor has a standard Mac or PC, an Internet connection, and a standard printer.
That's how another skipper, Don Franklin, has been selling licenses this fall, during the system's pilot phase — and he isn't happy with the results. Each transaction, says Franklin, who operates the 32-foot Soleman, takes 5 to 10 minutes and is often made worse by freeze-ups in the program: "I've had to delay fishing trips up to 45 minutes while I process these documents."
And there's another snag: To fish for the Bay's white sturgeon, a pursuit that produces 80 percent of Franklin's wintertime revenue, fishermen need a special report card with tags that must be clipped to each fish. Beginning in January, these packages will be available only through vendors owning the expensive touch-screen computer. And that's not going to happen, says Franklin, who estimates that 70 percent of his clients — many of them clueless landlubbers from abroad — arrive at his boat without paperwork.
Roger Thomas, captain of the party boat Salty Lady in Sausalito, foresees a similarly problematic future: a world with no place nearby to purchase a fishing license. "For the walk-aboard tourist fishing business, this is going to be a nightmare," he says.