The Price of the Sporting Life

Hunters pay no new fees, but wildlife gets no new funding

Increased fees for hunting licenses and stamps died with the House Republican Caucus leading the fight to kill HP 1419 on March 26. The death was unexpected.
    The first fee increases for hunting licenses and stamps in more than 20 years had been proposed by the Maryland Depart­ment of Natural Re­sources to counteract three forces: the long downward trend in hunting license revenues; a projected decline in federal matching monies; and the continued impact of a declining economy.

Fishfinder

    The mouth of the Choptank is on fire with acres of breaking muskrat taking clam snouts and small grass flies. These tasty critters average five pounds and are all over the place in early morning and evening hours. They can put up one heck of a fuss on fly and light tackle.
    The bluefin bite at the Bay Bridge off of the Eastern Shore rock pile is early this year, with fish to 150 pounds holding deep and taking big, live-lined, menhaden in 50 to 60 feet of water. Tarpon werre spotted last week on Tangier Sound and should be at Love Point, on schedule for their annual April 1 appearance.
    Meanwhile, yellow perch continue to taper off as the white perch run escalates. Hickory shad are showing at Deer Creek, spots along the Choptank, Upper Patuxent and at Red Bridges.
    The Susquehanna Flats continue to puzzle anglers with an unusually slow bite considering the water temperatures, 55 degrees and rising. Some occasional catch-and-release rockfish are taking lures at first and last light in shallow water, but the major run of big fish is missing. Perhaps the many years of harassing the spawning stripers on their major staging area is at last having an effect.
    Rockfish Trophy Season opens April 21. In the meantime, remember that catch-and-release regs for stripers require that you smash all barbs flat and, when trolling, eliminate stinger hooks and have no more than six rods on board. All catch-and-release for rockfish with bait requires circle hooks.
    The crappie sweetwater bite is full on right now, and largemouth bass are starting to move into spawning mode.

    The House Republicans revolted at what its members perceived as one fee hike and tax increase too many. They claimed the increase would be devastating to rural families who rely on hunting to feed their families. That potential hardship gave the tax- and fee-averse party leverage to defeat the hikes.
    “With all of the tax hikes and fee increases the House of Delegates has foisted onto Maryland’s citizens over the last few days, I am relieved that they found one they could say no to,” said Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, who represents Calvert and St. Mary’s counties. “I am glad the House listened to our caucus members who spoke so passionately against the bill.”
    There are some ironies here. One: Rural farm-based families are generally not required to purchase hunting licenses. Two: The proposed increase in license fees had overwhelming backing from Maryland’s sport-hunting organizations.
    In exchange for this short-term political victory, the long run could well reduce opportunity for both hunters and non-hunters alike. Hunting license fees are the key funding source for all wildlife programs and wildlife research science. Both were significantly underfunded. Now where’s the money going to come from?

Boaters to pay less, but still more

    The good news for boaters is that the proposal for increased registration fees has been amended to reduce their complexity and financial impact while still projected to generate enough revenue for DNR to continue necessary services.
    The increases are set for 2013.
    Here’s the scale:
• Registering watercraft less than 16 feet will cost $25 every two years.
• Boats from 16 to 21 feet will cost $50 every two years;
• Boats from 21 to 32 feet will cost $75 every two years;
• Boats from 32 to 45 feet will cost $100 every two years;
• Boats from 45 to 65 feet will cost $200 every two years; and
• Boats more than 65 feet will cost $300 every two years.
    The bill also includes a voluntary decal for non-motorized boats such as kayaks, canoes (and, I’m assuming, rowboats) at $12 every two years. Otherwise these vessels remain free. This is a puzzler. Why would anyone choose to pay for something they don’t have to?
    Another oddity is the lack of differentiation between electric-powered craft and those run by gas or diesel engines.
    If a canoeist or kayaker wishes to power a small boat with an electric motor, even on an occasional basis, the craft must be permanently registered as powered as if it were a jetski or cabin cruiser. The fee increase for a standard 17-foot canoe or ocean kayak thus goes from free to $50 bi-annually. That’s a significant discouragement for an environmentally friendly power source.
    This new legislation makes an ideal platform for encouraging cleaner power on our waters. Perhaps the electric option could be included within the scope of the voluntary registration of the small, otherwise non-powered watercraft. That might make that particular category much more popular.
    Finally, and potentially clouding the passage of the amended legislation, was the concern voiced by many legislators on the security of the revenue generated by the increases. Politicians seeking funding for other unrelated areas have raided the waterway accounts in the past. So far, there is no language in the bill safeguarding these monies. That oversight should be corrected before the legislation goes for vote.