Licensed to fish!

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — At first, angling advocates gave Florida State Senator Joe Negron the benefit of the doubt.

In introducing a bill (S.B. 744) on Feb. 4 to eliminate fishing licenses for both residents and non-residents, they believed, he simply did not realize the implications for fisheries management. Several sources attributed him as saying, "The bill is my effort to reduce the annoyance and nuisance of government."

But then, Ted Forsgren, executive director for the Coastal Conservation Association, met with Negron "to explain the benefits of the license money and the damages that would occur if it was eliminated.

"He told us that he did not believe a license should be required to fish. He simply disagreed with all of our comments and concerns, but was open to further discussions."

Now angling advocates are wondering if Negron even bothered to ask fishermen how they feel about buying licenses. Likely, he would find few who are complaining.

The money that they pay is not a tax — it's a user's fee. And those funds go directly into making fishing better, unlike general tax revenues that often are apportioned based on politics and pressure by special interests.

With just a few exceptions, state fisheries programs are funded almost entirely by license sales and apportionments from the federal Sport Fish Restoration (SFR) program (also known as Wallop-Breaux). A state's number of licensed anglers helps determined its annual allocation for the latter.

In Florida, those two sources account for nearly $50 million annually, with nearly $40 million directly from license sales. Marine anglers pay more than $29 million and freshwater fishermen more than $9 million.

Negron, meanwhile, told the Palm Beach Post, "We can find money to fund FWC (Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) and conservation projects from a $70 billion budget without nickeling and diming the citizenry with a complicated and confusing fishing license scheme."

So, angling advocates point out, what Negron wants is to do away with a system of dedicated funding for fisheries management that no one is complaining about and politicians can't misdirect, and replace it with annual appropriations from politicians who may be more concerned with pleasing special interests and getting re-elected than they will be in wisely managing a billion-dollar public resource.