June 10, 2021 (WASHINGTON, D.C.)— Over the last week, the United States Congress has introduced two bills to safeguard the most significant fisheries conservation funding program in the nation. Last Friday, the Sport Fish Restoration, Recreational Boating Safety, and Wildlife Restoration Act of 2021 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) Co-Chair Rep. Debbie Dingell (MI) and CSC member Rep. Garret Graves (LA), among others. Yesterday, Senator Maria Cantwell (WA) and CSC member Senator Roger Wicker (MS) introduced the Senate companion bill – the Sport Fish Restoration and Recreational Boating Safety Act of 2021.
Both bills aim to enhance funding for state-based fisheries conservation. Working in close partnership with the CSC, the introduction of both bills maintains the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation’s (CSF) position as a leader in the sportsmen’s policy arena after securing dedicated fisheries conservation funding in successive federal highway bill reauthorizations dating back over two decades.
The Sport Fish Restoration and Recreational Boating Trust Fund (Trust Fund) is currently funded entirely by federal excise taxes on fishing equipment including tackle, motorboat and small engine fuel, electric motors, and other equipment purchased by anglers and boaters. The bipartisan bills will reauthorize the Trust Fund and ensure more than $650 million is provided annually to fund state-based programs for sport fish conservation and habitat restoration, infrastructure for boating access, and on-the-ground, state-driven fisheries conservation programs.
These two pieces of legislation will reauthorize the “user pays – public benefits” Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund through 2025 to facilitate aquatic habitat improvements, fishing and boating access, and boating safety programming. Additionally, it will provide fishing opportunities for the American public, and will secure a bright future for the $23.6 billion fishing and boating industry while ultimately improving the efficiency of the Sport Fish Restoration program. Last year alone, nearly $743 million was generated by the Trust Fund from fishing and boating-related excise taxes.
As an active member of the Angling and Boating Alliance (ABA), which consists of the top recreational fishing and boating organizations who work to advance reauthorization of the Trust Fund, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation has played a key role in securing continuation of the Fund for decades, including a successful 2005 effort to ensure that the entirety of excise taxes paid by anglers and boaters is directed to the Trust Fund, ultimately generating approximately $110 million in additional fisheries conservation funding each year.
“Healthy habitats for fish and wildlife are essential to ensure healthy populations, which in turn, provide better opportunities for hunters and anglers,” said CSF President and CEO Jeff Crane. “We are excited for the reintroduction of this bill which further enhances the commitment made by America’s sportsmen and women to steward healthy fish and wildlife resources, and we commend the effort of these conservation leaders in Congress.”
“This legislation would reauthorize the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, first enacted in 1950 through the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act, which provides critical funding to state fish and wildlife agencies to support recreational fishing,” said CSC Co-Chair Rep. Debbie Dingell. “To this day, the Fund provides for land acquisition, boating access site development, research, operations, maintenance, and recreational fisheries management to support recreational fishing opportunities. As Co-Chair of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, it’s important we renew this as a bipartisan effort so that we can provide important resources for recreational fishing and protect our ecosystems.”
Both pieces of legislation await further action in both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate respectively where CSF is working to secure their passage.
About the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund
A foundational component of the American System of Conservation Funding, the Sport Fish Restoration Fund was established in 1950. At its inception, it used a 10 percent federal manufacturers’ excise tax on certain fishing equipment to fund projects designed to enhance sportfishing in all 50 states. The Recreational Boating Safety Program was established in 1971 to fund boating safety and education programs, and amended in 1980 to draw its funding from taxes on motorboat fuels. These programs were combined in 1984 under the Wallop-Breaux amendment to the Act.
The Wallop-Breaux Act expanded the list of taxable items to nearly all sportfishing products and captured the federal motorboat fuel taxes that were paid by boaters and anglers. This combination substantially increased the funds collected by the federal government to be returned to the states for fishing and boating-related projects.
In 2005, the Wallop-Breaux Act was reauthorized, and the fund was renamed the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund (SFRBTF).
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?