I've been having a hard time sitting down lately. My wallet is too fat, and it's not with money.

It's the licenses, permits, registrations and stamps required of anyone who hunts, boats and fishes that give me a pain in the posterior.

So it was with trepidation and a wince that I sat down the other day with Jack Buckley and Dave Loveland, two young city biologists who are trying to put together a fisheries management program for the District of Columbia. "Not another license," I thought.

Buckley and Loveland insist they haven't even begun to think about the licensing issue, although I suspect they are diplomatically sidestepping a controversial inevitability. Does Washington, perhaps the last freshwater fishery in America with no comprehensive governing program, really need one?

Joe Fletcher and his brother Ray, whose kin for more than a century have run the main fishing center in Washington, Fletcher's Boathouse, think not.

They say that despite the lack of government attention, the river is as rich with fish as ever, except for problems with shad that are endemic to the entire Chesapeake region. The Fletchers' attitude is, "If it isn't broken, why fix it?"

But others say perils to the resource abound and more lurk around the corner, particularly with Washington soon to become the only place in the upper Chesapeake region where catching rockfish remains legal.

"You should come with me some day and watch people carrying off five-gallon buckets of undersized rockfish and bass," said Ken Penrod, a professional bass guide on the river.

With rockfish banned in all Maryland waters, Penrod said the Potomac in Washington will be "wall-to-wall boats" in September and October, when he said savvy fishermen can catch up to 100 rock a day.

Loveland came up with the idea to start regulating fishing in the District when he discovered the Nation's Capital was the only jurisdiction around not capitalizing on federal Dingell-Johnson money, which is disbursed to states and territories to pay for fishing and hunting programs.

The money comes from special taxes on outdoors gear, which D.C. residents pay along with everyone else. Loveland found that places such as Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands were getting a share, but the District never had applied.

He went to Capitol Hill last year and asked why not. He came away with access to more than $130,000 in federal funds, with potential for more than twice as much in the future, he said.

But the money must be used for fisheries enhancement and management, and requires some local funding. With that in mind, Buckley was hired in February as the District's first fisheries biologist.

He and Loveland, who is a water quality control professional, said their initial goals are to survey the river to find out what fish are in it; to find out how many fishermen there are and what they want; to start an education program encouraging conservation-minded use of the river, and to identify environmental problems and work to correct them.

They said it is premature to talk about creel limits, licensing requirements and fees, but that's what fishermen want to know about.

Joe Fletcher has no doubt there eventually would be a license if the management program gets off the ground, and that worries him. "People use the river for food," he said. "We see them down here, counting their quarters for bait.

"I'm sure the license will start off low (priced), but probably a lot higher for out-of-state people. But when D.C. government sees what it has, they'll start to jump it up and jump it up. Pretty soon, people will stop coming."

A broader concern is whether a fisheries management program will in fact benefit the fishery, or simply be a harassment to fishermen.

Buckley admitted he has seen state programs that do little to improve access to the fishery or protect the resource, but go to great lengths to check every angler for his license and measure his catch to make sure he isn't cheating.

He insists that's exactly what he doesn't want. "If that's what happened here," said Buckley, who seems sincere in his concern, "I'd just pack it up and leave."

And that's what worries me. He'd leave, but behind him would stand the shards of his good intentions: a bureaucracy bent on regulating and taxing a system that worked fine without it.

And me, I'd be left with a wallet fat with new papers and permits.