Monday, February 14, 2011

Senate Bill 744: Recreational Fishing Licenses

Earlier this month, there was a Florida Senate Bill filed by State Senator Joe Negron stating "Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, a recreational freshwater fishing or recreational saltwater fishing license or permit is not required of any resident or nonresident to fish in this state" and "shall take effect July 1, 2011". Is this a good bill?

State figures show that there are over 1 million saltwater fishing licenses sold annually producing $29 million in revenue. Freshwater fishing licenses generate nearly $10 million in revenue with over 525,000 licenses sold annually. A state law guarantees that all the money from the sale of fishing licenses goes to the FWC to help fulfill its mission of "Managing fish and wildlife resources for their long-term well-being and the benefit of the people". Additionally, in 1950, congressmen Dingell and Johnshon, at the request of anglers and the industry, created the original Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration (SFR) program where fishing tackle was assessed an excise fee and the monies returned to the states for fish restoration projects. The "Wallop-Breaux" amendment in 1984 expanded the act by adding import duties on sport fishing equipment, pleasure boats and yachts as well as tax revenue from motorboat fuel sales. As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reimburses states using these funds at the rate of $3 for every $4 spent on qualifying projects. The result is one of the most successful "user-pays, user-benefits" programs in the world, with taxes from sale of outdoor recreation supplies directly enhancing and promoting the resource.

The amount of money Florida receives from SFR is based on the size of the state and the number of paid licensed anglers; not license and permits, but the people who hold them. Since FL does not charge license fees for youths under 16, adults over 65, and others, FL recovers a somewhat smaller proportion of these funds than other states do. This is becoming an increasing problem as other states adjust their license structures to maximize the number of paid license holders they certify for federal aid and thus recover a greater proportion of the excise taxes on tackle and motor boat fuel taxes paid by anglers. Each certified holder generates approximately $7 more for sport fish restoration providing $13 million for Florida in 2008. Of those monies 15% went to boating access; building and repairing ramps and courtesy docks. The remainder went to fresh and saltwater fisheries conservation projects such as habitat restoration, fish stocking, conservation law enforcement, artificial reefs construction, and youth fishing clinics.

Consequently, FWC encourages all anglers to buy a license even if you are legally exempt because it contributes to the future of FL's fishieries resources and the health of the habitat by helping them obtain the matching $7 contribution from the federal SFR program. So what will happen to these funds from the SFR program if there is no longer a state fishing license for anyone? Obviously FL will no longer qualify for this funding and will need to look for other sources of money for boating access and fisheries conservation projects. This could potentially mean less money overall for these projects.

Another consequence of this bill potentially passing is that Florida's anglers will probably pay more to fish and the money will no longer go to Florida but to the federal government. The 2010 reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires all anglers fishing in saltwater or for anadromous species (fish that live mainly in the ocean but breed in freshwater) to obtain a federal registration that costs about $20 per person. These funds are deposited into the National Treasury, not into Florida's Marine Fisheries Conservation Trust Fund. But a provision in the act exempts states that have an adequate saltwater fishing license, which Florida currently does. Without our Florida fishing licenses, anglers in Florida will need to pay the federal license fee instead.

So what can you do? You can call Senator Joe Negron's office and tell him how you feel about the bill. His email is or call 1-888-759-0791 (district office) or 850-487-5088 (Tallahassee office). Of you could call your local senator to see how they plan on voting on this bill and explain to them your thoughts. You can find your local legislator at