America's fish populations had been declining for more than a century. In 1871, Congress recognized the problem and responded by creating the U.S. Office of the Commission of Fisheries. The agency encouraged states to implement conservation measures such as management practices, closed seasons, and stocking lakes with hatchery raised fish. But these programs, paid for with state license fees, did little to alter the downturn in recreational fisheries. Their lack of success was due, in part, to inadequate funding sources.
In 1937, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act established excise taxes on outdoor sports equipment, with proceeds going toward wildlife enhancement. In 1950, Congress enacted the Sport Fish Restoration Act, sponsored by U.S. Representative John Dingell, Sr., of Michigan and Senenator Edwin Johnson, of Colorado. The law, which became known as the "Dingell-Johnson Act," appliesda 10 percent manufacturer's excise tax on fishing rods, reels, creels, lures, and flies. Tax revenues are transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which in turn distributes them to the states for recreational sport fishing enhancement projects.
Each state's share is based 60 percent on its number of paid licensed sport fishermen and 40 percent on its land and water area. No state may receive more than 5 percent or less than 1 percent of each year's total collection. Since Florida does not charge license fees to youth under 16 or adults over 65, and many states do, we recover a somewhat smaller proportion of the funds than do other states.
Through the years, this act has provided nearly $500 million to the states for thousands of individual projects. Up to 75 percent of each Sport Fish Restoration project is paid for with federal funds and 25 percent with matching state funds.
By 1984, these funds had become inadequate. Senator Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming and Representative John Breaux of Louisiana sponsored the Wallop-Breaux Amendment to the Sport Fish Restoration Act, extending the tax to tackle boxes, sonar fish finders, motorboat fuels, electric motors, and other equipment not included in the earlier laws.
The Wallop-Breaux Amendment requires that 12.5 percent of all restoration money be spent on boating access to public waters and requires Florida and other coastal states to fund marine recreational fisheries projects proportionate to the ratio of freshwater to saltwater anglers.
The amendment enlarged the fund from $40 million annually in 1950 to $404.4 million in fiscal 2009. Of this, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission received approximately $13 million, by 2011 this was done to less than $12 million. Of this money, 15% provides for both fresh and saltwater boating access improvement projects. From the remaining funds, freshwater fisheries programs receive around $5 million; saltwater fisheries programs receive between $3-4 million. (Annual Apportionments shows how much money Florida and other states receive)
The Florida angler has two ways to contribute to the protection of Florida's fisheryresources: directly through the purchase of recreational fishing licenses and indirectly by purchasing fishing supplies and equipment covered in the Sport Fish Restoration program. Thanks to anglers, boaters, and their tax dollars, recreational sport fishing will endure.
For a summary of historical Federal Aid Accomplishments in Florida visit the official USFWS webiste, then select Florida, a Year and Sportfish Restoration for Annual Reports.