The Bank of NJ - The Fisherman

The Bank of NJ

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently announced that $1 billion will be distributed this year for conservation efforts across all 50 states and U.S. territories. The funds are generated through excise taxes on hunting, shooting and fishing equipment, as well as boat fuel, yet every year elected officials and government agencies make the funding announcement with such fanfare that you’d think it was coming from their own pockets.

Authorized by Congress through the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act in 1937 and Dingell-Johnson/Wallop-Breaux Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act of 1950, monies collected through these sporting excise taxes are administered through the USFWS Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program. USFWS says more than $21 billion in apportionments for state conservation and recreation projects have been distributed over the years, with recipient state wildlife agencies matching these funds with approximately $7.3 billion of their own resource spending. State-by-state Sport Fish Restoration apportionments are based on a formula that compares physical state size and number of licensed anglers each state has registered. While USFWS often touts the “user pays/public benefits” foundation of Sport Fish Restoration in terms of license monies helping drive more federal funding back to individual states, the Fiscal Year 2019 apportionment shows that New Jersey – a state with no saltwater fishing fee – is getting the very same amount of funding ($3.4 million) as neighboring coastal states which do have fees to fish saltwater like Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The three states getting the most money back, Texas ($17 million), Alaska ($17 million) and California ($16.2 million) are also the three largest states by total land and water area in the country. New York meanwhile which is also a “free to fish” saltwater state is entitled to $7.5 million in federal Sport Fish Restoration apportionments as the 27th ranked state nationwide in total geographic area.

So where is the actual spending taking place? Since the Department of Interior (which manages USFWS) and the Department of Commerce (which oversees NOAA Fisheries) don’t seem to compare notes very often, I figured I’d give it a try. Back in December NOAA released their annual Fisheries Economics of the United States report – dubious as it is – that showed recreational fishing generated $67.9 billion in overall sales in 2016. On a state-by-state basis, Florida was first in coastal angler spending with $10.9 billion in sales, California second with $2.1 billion in sales, Texas third at $2 billion, and New Jersey fourth alongside North Carolina with $1.7 billion in saltwater sales.

New York for the record came in 8th in the coastal rankings at $1.1 billion in sales, with Delaware ranked 19th at $168 million. And Alaska, which leads the nation in receiving tax dividends from other anglers? They’re 14th out of 23 coastal states in angler spending with $539 million. Granted, USFWS also tracks freshwater fisheries while NOAA only guesstimates the salt; but it shows an interesting comparison of where our angler tax dollars are going. And it tracks pretty well with other national figures too. Earlier this year for example a Rockefeller Institute study found that New Jersey taxpayers got back just 82 cents for every $1 sent to Washington in 2017, the second lowest rate of return in the nation behind only Connecticut at 74 cents. Californians meanwhile got their entire $1 back, Texans received $1.03, Floridians recouped $1.24 and Alaskans pocketed $1.67.

Funny, the word “Alaska” is Aleutian for “object to which the action of the sea is directed.” Yeah, a sea of free money, flowing freely from a giant spigot somewhere in the heart of downtown Trenton. ‘Tis indeed impossible to be sure of anything but death and taxes, but here in New Jersey it’s the taxes that’ll surely kill you.

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