How Will Accessing Your Saltwater Sport Fishing Licence Online-Only Affect You and Do You Think That 100% Electronic Access Only for Saltwater Fishing Licences is a Good Idea?

Gerry Kristianson—SFAB Chair

The decision will not affect me personally.  I have been getting my licence on-line since the electronic process was first put in place.


But the decision to move quickly to 100% electronic access is premature and ill-considered. The Sport Fishing Advisory Board was not consulted before the decision was made.  As chair, I have made clear the executive committee’s reservations and the need for a great deal more consultation in order to ensure that this obvious attempt to download costs does not become an impediment to public access to tidal fisheries.  Recreational fishing makes a larger contribution than commercial fishing to the Canadian economy.  Angler access should be encouraged, not deterred.

Owen Bird

In this day and age electronic licencing seems like an approach that should be a more economic and efficient way to go about licencing.  But, and it’s a big but!, the transition from paper to electronic should be carefully thought out to ensure that situations including those where internet connections aren’t available or good or where multiple licences for groups are required quickly are properly addressed.  The opportunity to adapt electronic licensing into a powerful way to communicate with all anglers through the year and to collect better catch information shouldn’t be overlooked.  The changes just shouldn’t happen overnight or without a plan to address outliers and unique situations.


Dave Steele

Having issued saltwater fishing licences for the past 28 years and from a tidal waters fishing licence vendors perspective I find the Federal Government’s decision to deliver Tidal Water Sport Fishing licences in an “online only” format under the premise that vendors will no longer receive compensation appalling.

I’ll begin my explanation with a quote from a Fisheries and Oceans letter dated March 26th 2013 delivered to all of its current tidal water licence vendors. Remember, though I do have several concerns about an “internet only” model as it applies to our massive fishery, my focus is largely concentrated on the Federal Government’s unrealistic expectation of continued vendor involvement.


“Dear Vendor:

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) would like to thank you for your ongoing participation in delivering Tidal Waters Sport Fishing License services.

We would like to inform you of upcoming changes to Tidal Waters Sport Fishing License service delivery for 2013-2014 and the longer term goal to issue all licences electronically by April 2014. Electronic licensing will reduce paper and administrative burdens, improve and support DFO’s program delivery and is more cost effective than paper based licensing systems. As a result of these changes, the $1 commission will not be available through the electronic licensing system.

Licensing staff will be contacting you in the upcoming months to assist your transition to e-licensing if you do not already have an e-licensing account. We hope that offering a phased approach to an electronic licensing system will allow implementation with little disruption to your business operations.”

As a Tidal Water Licence Vendor I am incensed that Federal Government would eliminate the $1.00 commission it currently pays its issuers, annoyed to the point that my future participation as a deliverer of saltwater fishing licences is in question. At present, the commissions paid don’t adequately cover the cost of paper, printer cartridges or the staff time allocated for issuance. Prior to the “online only” announcement retailers have issued licences as a service, the $1.00 commission considered at best, partial compensation for the services rendered.

During my three-decade tenure as a tidal water licence vendor the Government has continuously suggested that Vendors benefit from licence sales, stating that providing fishing licences directs fishermen to the various retail outlets.  This philosophy is old, outdated and offered in the absence of a real understanding of today’s independent business environment. Yes, selling fishing licences does bring people into one’s store, unfortunately retailers spend so much time issuing fishing licences they struggle to serve those patrons whose support pay the bills. As a business person with a finite number of hours in the day and a short period of probability how would you suggest your staff spend their time (A) Assisting clients with a $1000 purchase or (B) issuing twenty fishing licences for free?

In the course of my communication with Fisheries I’d purposefully asked if charging the consumer a surcharge to process an online fishing licence was acceptable, I was utterly astonished when the answer was yes. In allowing said surcharges to be levied the Government unfairly creates an antagonistic environment for the procurement of necessary government documentation.  What’s going to happen when one retailer advertises free delivery while another finds it economically crippling to do the same? How dare Fisheries and Oceans Canada put its vendors in a situation that might negatively affect their customer relations.

In summary, and from a business owner’s perspective, don’t be surprised if numerous retailers make the decision to no longer offer the service of saltwater licence distribution.

Over the past several months I’ve made an effort to find out as much as I can about the origin and reasoning behind the “on line only” tidal water licencing decision. Based on numerous calls and emails it would appear that this decision was made as a Federal cost cutting initiative, a maneuver designed to reduce government costs associated with the delivery of all Federal fishing licences, both commercial and recreational. It’s been suggested that initially the target was the commercial sector, a decision that actually made sense. Commercial fishermen could complete all their paper work on line and avoid a trip to the local Fisheries and Oceans office. Given the fairly consistent commercial sector renewal requirements and the overall level numbers of those participating in the commercial sector streamlining the process makes nothing but sense. I’ve repeatedly asked Fisheries and Oceans Canada to provide me with the number of commercial fishing licences issued and have yet to receive an updated list. As stated, and as it was conveyed to me I am of the understanding that the “on line only licensing” was originally coordinated to deal with the commercial sector.  At some point an Ottawa bean counter decided that it would be economically prudent to include the issuance of recreational tidal sport fishing licences as a component of the same directive, a decision defined by its innumerable flaws. I’d like to quote the numbers of commercial fisherman affected but I’ve yet to appraised of the actual number, I’d think I’d be exorbitantly generous if I concluded the number was around 10,000.  I simply need a number so I can comparatively suggest the lunacy of Ottawa’s proposal.  In applying this ill thought decision to the Recreational sector our Ottawa bean counter inadvertently changed the manner in which approximately 300,000 recreational saltwater anglers are issued fishing licences. Approximately 44,000 of the overall number being issued to non-resident anglers, yes tourists.

At this point I’d like to offer up a few scenarios that should inspire consideration. Let’s for a moment assume the Government’s decision to eliminate vendor commissions results in a majority of the retailers opting out of the licence issuance program. Has the government grossly underestimated the regulatory information provided by vendors when licences are purchased at existing independent retailers?  Is the fishing public better served when those in the know and able to decipher the complexities of today’s opportunity based micro managed fisheries alienated from the process? Does Ottawa expect 40, 000 unaware tourists to solely familiarize themselves with licensing requirements via the internet?  In the heart of the fishing season there’s not a minute that passes when myself or one of my staff aren’t assisting an angler with respect to regulatory compliance, a service that unquestionably benefits the environment.  Oh, by the way, data available on the National Recreational On-Line System (NRLS) does reveal that over the course of the 2011/2012 fiscal the total amount of commissions paid to fishing licence vendors amounted to $214,489. Thank goodness taxpayers will see this value, let see if we can close another coast guard station.

The Feds argue that the moving away from paper is more efficient and provides better access to saltwater licences. Tell that to the fishing charter that gets an evening phone call from a potential client. As it currently stands most of the fishing charters simply meet their clients in the AM and issue the required licences prior to departure. In the 2014/2015 season those same operators will have to instruct visitors to track down the Concierge and inquire how they might print their wonderfully cost effective “online only” documentation. How many spur-of-the-moment charters will be lost?  Considering the remote and rugged characteristics of our coastline would those unable to make a timely internet connection be resigned to remain at the dock?

The Feds suggest that their “one line only” licencing policy is designed to reduce departmental costs yet they’ve had to initiate an online support system aimed at assisting consumers trying to work their way through a less than user friendly portal.

In summary I’d like to mention that Highwater Tackle Ltd was one of the two retailers chosen to pilot and assist in the development of the Provincial Online Freshwater Fishing licence portal. Unlike the Federal Government the Province worked to formulate a system that allowed retailers the opportunity to continue providing licences and receive the commissions earned. The funding model created valued the work of their vendors and ensured that 100% of all fishing licence monies collected was reinvested into sport fisheries via the Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C.

With respect to the Federal proposal I think it reeks of managerial impropriety and fails to recognize the size, complexities and regional requirements associated with the distribution of saltwater fishing licences.

In light of the Federal Governments decision to pocket commissions it will be interesting to see if the distribution of tidal water fishing licences appreciates problematic availability

Trevor Shpeley

I personally believe online only is a good idea. For myself, it’s much more convenient than going into a store and doing it and I know from talking to people in stores that the old way ate up a lot of customer services and returned almost nothing. Is this going to affect people who can’t (or won’t) go online? Probably but sorry folks, the world is changing. Paper money is almost history, Sweden already stopped printing it and more will follow. Most people are taking to the new methods like ducks to water and the holdouts? Well sorry but I’m sure there will be a work-around. A government office? Maybe. Shops that maintain online access as a service to customers? Probably.

Good idea or not it’s the new order and accepting it is going to be far more satisfying in the long run than trying to fight it.

Aaron Goodis

For me the online licensing system works great most of the time. I do think that saltwater guides will have an issue when guests arrive unannounced without a licencing. It would mean that all companies would need to have a computer, internet and a printer available all the time for this issue. It may be a hassle for them. My only real issue is that the website does crash often leaving the angler with no means of getting the licence. The other issue that I see is that not all people have a computer/printer set up never mind the needed credit card to pay with. This puts a huge pressure on local retail shops in order to provide adequate licensing options. For the most part the system works great but I do believe that we need to make sure that our licences are as easy to get as possible other wise it can be quite discouraging to new coming anglers. One thing I would love to see change would be an add-on short sport fishing test to help ensure that anglers are following and aware of our fishing regulations. The online system should make this idea more accessible.

Phil Rowley

In recent years I have become a huge fan of electronic licences for both fresh and saltwater. I travel all over Canada and the United States and take advantage of electronic licencing whenever I can. Having the ability to pre-purchase my licence prior to a trip gives me one less thing to worry about when I arrive at my destination. At times it has been difficult to track down somewhere to purchase a licence when I get to a location. Having the licence already alleviates that worry. Plus you don’t have to bite into your spending money to purchase a licence at your destination!

Tom Johannesen

Like many people I don’t really like change, but in this case it is just something we must learn to adapt to. I actually find the electronic licence a convenience as a licence or tag can be purchased from home in just minutes.

I recall many times in the past driving around looking for a place to purchase a licence. This is just one man’s opinion but I actually embrace the change to a 100% electronic system.

Mark Yelic—Publisher: Outdoor Group Media and OP Media Group

DFO should be most concerned with compliance.  Going to a 100% online system will cause problems. Period.  Whether those problems are internet connections, remote access, hardware problems etc.  Not everyone will arrive with valid paperwork.  When the above problems present themselves, and they will, what solution does DFO suggest?  Maybe government should offer an “incentive” to any vendor, or angler to who buys an electronic licence.  Rather than take money away, offer both anglers a discount and vendors a bonus to process an online licence.