FACE IT, PEOPLE DON’T LIKE to part with their hard earned money, but there is one time every year I don’t mind forking over $53.75: when I renew my fishing license. Many people assume it’s just another way for big government to reach into our pocket and grab more money. During a survey of anglers a few years ago, only 39 percent of respondents knew that 100 percent of the money collected for fishing licenses (minus handling fees) goes back to protecting and enhancing the resource. Most people assumed at least part of the money was being funneled to the general revenue black hole. We’re not talking an inconsequential amount either. Last year, more than $686 million was collected in licenses from more than 28 million licensed anglers.
In addition, since 1950, the Sport Fish Restoration program (Dingell-Johnson Act) has been collecting money from the sale of every fishing rod, reel, lure, etc. In 1984, the Wallop-Breaux amendment to this program extended the excise tax to include previously untaxed items such as tackle boxes. Another amendment added highway taxes collected on gas bought by boaters, since the vehicle that gas was purchased for wasn’t being used on the roadways. In 2014, about $625 million was raised (with $328 million of that raised by boaters at the pump).
How is the money collected for Wallop-Breaux being distributed? Appropriate state agencies are the only entities eligible to receive grant funds, and each state’s share is based on a formula that counts 60 percent of its licensed anglers and 40 percent of its land and water area to determine its slice of the pie. To spread the money around, no state may receive more than 5 percent or less than 1 percent of each year’s total apportionment. Fortunately, the program was reauthorized in December 2015 with strong bipartisan support (amazing, I know). The money is further enhanced by private donations, which exceed $400 million a year, and by grants from the federal government for conservation, education and enforcement.
What are we getting for all this money? Each state handles its funds separately, so the answer to that would be quite varied and very long. Most of it goes for studies, surveys, fish restocking, education, habitat protection and restoration, improving boater access, and resource assessment and management. I can’t speak for other states, but in Florida, where I do most of my fishing, there’s been a vast improvement in the quality of fishing since such revenue enhancements have been put into place. Do the marine management folks sometimes get carried away with over-regulating? In my opinion, yes. But overall, the system is working to the benefit of today’s and, more importantly, tomorrow’s anglers.