Fight on to regain federal fish funds

Associate Editor

Washington Conservation groups, including the Congressional
Sportsmen’s Foundation, are working to regain full funding through
the Wallop-Breaux Sportfish Restoration Act. If successful, it
could mean an extra $4 million for fish and fishing-related
projects in Minnesota, according to Jeff Crane, policy director for
the CSF.

If not, more than a quarter of funding that should be supporting
state fisheries programs will continue to be spent as federal
general revenue, Crane said.

Currently, Minnesota receives about $10 million of the annual
$110 million distributed by the federal government. The
Wallop-Breaux Sportfish Restoration Act provides funding through a
tax of 18.3 cents per gasoline for outboard motors and small
engines. However, just 13.5 cents per gallon is reaching the
Aquatic Resources Trust Fund, according to the CSF, shortchanging
sportsmen nationwide about $110 million, Crane said.

Another $4 million in the fishing coffers of the Minnesota DNR
would “definitely” be a welcome addition, said Jerry Johnson,
federal assistance coordinator for the Minnesota DNR’s Division of
Fish and Wildlife.

Wallop-Breaux funding is used for a number of DNR projects,
including fisheries land acquisition; fisheries research; lake and
stream management planning, which includes lake inventory and creel
surveys; trout and salmon propagation and the stocking of walleyes,
muskies, and other species; public access land acquisition; and
public access development.

Johnson said after states fund projects, they submit a request
for reimbursement from the federal government, which pays 75 cents
for each dollar of qualified projects. However, the federal funding
now stops at $10 million for Minnesota. Further, the state for its
programs spends beyond the level that receives federal
reimbursement, he said.

This year, a presidential election may have forced a delay in
reauthorizing Wallop-Breaux, and could potentially nix the effort
to restore full funding to the act.

Crane said the House and Senate have different language in
reauthorizing highway bills, through which the W-B Act is
addressed. But in late September Congress voted for an extension,
giving them until May of 2005 to complete the bill.

“The prevailing thought is (the transportation bill) is dead
this year,” Crane said this week. He and other conservation leaders
worry that when the bill is taken up again, restoration of the
funding could be changed by a Congress with new members, or new
ideas.

Either way, he said, putting 4.8 cents of dedicated funding into
the fed’s general fund “doesn’t make any sense.”

In the meantime, Crane said the CSF was leading an effort to
restore W-B funding in tax bill on which Congress was more likely
to act during this election year.

The Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act of 1950 created a
self-imposed 10 percent excise tax on sport fishing equipment such
as rods and reels, and baits and lures. The proceeds were to
improve fishing, fishing access, and fishing education. That act
was amended by the W-B in 1984, extending the tax to previously
untaxed items of sport fishing equipment and taking in the federal
tax on motorboat fuels.

Johnson said a state’s share of federal aid is based on a
formula including the number of fishing licenses sold in the state
(1.5 million in Minnesota) and the state’s geographic area.
Minnesota ranks in the top 5 nationally, he said.

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