By Louie Stout
One would think that reauthorizing the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund would be an easy move for our federal legislators, but nothing is guaranteed with this group.
Unless, of course, it’s bickering and in-fighting.
We can only hope that the reauthorization bill introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives late last month will get done soon.
The program, also known as the Wallop-Breux Act, has been in place since 1950 and has been a godsend for state fishery and public access programs. The bill would extend the program to 2024.
Basically here’s how it works: When you buy recreational fishing gear, boat motors and motorboat fuel, you pay a federal tax that goes into a big pot. That money is offered back to the states based upon number of license holders. The state can use it to manage fishing programs and provide access to fishing waters in addition to what it collects in license fees.
The beauty of this program is it cost the Feds nothing since sportsmen and boaters are paying the freight and the economy gets a boost.
That economic impact is felt right here in Michiana as well.
Statistics produced by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) reveal just how big of role fishing plays on the local level.
A lot of money is spent on outdoor recreation in this region – probably more than most non-fishermen realize.
Just take a look at the numbers ASA has provided. The group analyzed the economic contributions from anglers in each congressional district. It utilized the 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey that measures number of anglers and their contributions.
Anyway, in Jackie Walorski’s 2nd District that covers South Bend and nearby counties, there are more than 167,000 anglers who spend more than $64 million annually on fishing related items, travel expenses and services related to their outdoor activities.
Those expenditures help support more than $26 million in salaries and wages at those retail businesses, raised more than $6 million in federal tax revenues and another $5 million for state and local tax revenues.
The numbers are equally impressive in Michigan. In Fred Upton’s District 6, there are more than 171,000 anglers who spend more than $158 million on gear and contributed more than $78 million in salaries and wages each year. Those sales generated more than $18 million in federal excise taxes and more than $16 million in state and local tax revenues.
On a national level, anglers spend nearly $50 billion last year, supported more than 800,000 jobs with an overall economic impact of some $125 billion.
Ultimately, everyone benefits which is why reauthorization should be a no-brainer.
But then, we’re asking a do-nothing Congress to do its job.
Like I said, no guarantees.
Another related bill, the Sport Fish Restoration and Recreational Boating Safety Act of 2019, could ultimately bolster the fund by adding non-motorized boats.
That would include kayaks and other paddle-style vessels. These rigs utilize public access areas as well as newly-designed accesses specifically for them.
But who pays for that? Sportsmen and boaters do.
The new bill would give the Government Accountability Office an opportunity to examine and report on the increasing use of non-motorized vessels and their impacts on recreational boat launches. It also would look at user conflicts and how funds are used to support non-motorized boating safety programs. It will also look at boat recycling.
While that bill deals with federal funding, state agencies should be examining similar issues. Motorized boats must be registered within their state of residence while non-motorized vessels are exempt. Those registration fees by motor boaters help fund boating lake programs.
Given the additional use by non-motorized vessels at public boat launches, shouldn’t they pay some of the freight?