Wednesday, June 5, 2024

National Fishing & Boating Week Continues Through June 9

National Fishing and Boating Week is a time to remember the sources of conservation funding

National Fishing and Boating Week is actually a week and two days long, June 1-9, this year. That’s appropriate. It’s a metaphor for the optimism that anglers inherently possess. Think about it, how many “last casts” do you make before you really pack it in, always hopeful for one more rise before calling it a day.

Fishing is an article of faith. Fisheries conservation is not.

State and territorial fish and wildlife agencies have solid financial resources to research and scientifically manage fisheries and provide access to waters for anglers on foot or those who fish from a boat. Excise taxes paid by the manufacturers of tackle and taxes on motorboat fuels via the Sport Fish Restoration Act (Dingell-Johnson), coupled with fishing licenses and stamp fees yield reliable and steady funding.

It’s funding that needs no faith—it’s there year upon year. In 2024, all states and territories combined received $381.8 million to use for fishing access and boat ramps, hatchery production, biological research, angler surveys, all things that make fishing better. And it is monies that can only be spent on fish conservation matters; it cannot be siphoned off for any other purpose.

Let’s look at a few examples.

The Alaska Fish and Game Department received $19 million this year. They will put some of those funds to use in the operation and maintenance of the Ruth Burnett Sport Fish Hatchery, in Fairbanks, and the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery, in Anchorage. The two facilities raise and stock Arctic char, rainbow trout, Chinook, and Coho salmon for fishing in interior lakes and streams. The hatchery fish promote the renowned fishing that brings anglers north from afar. That’s good for the economy.

Biologists with the Idaho Fish and Game Department use Sport Fish Restoration dollars to determine fish harvest rates by anglers through tagging returns reported by anglers—data that informs future creel limits and size restrictions and potentially hatchery stocking rates as needed. Idaho received $7.2 million via Sport Fish Restoration in 2024. Idaho has native cutthroat trout and rainbow trout inhabiting its cold waters, and smallmouth bass and yellow perch swimming in warmer waters, providing anglers a multitude of opportunities.

Select waters in Georgia are home to shoal bass. It is a member of the black bass family—kin to smallmouth and largemouth bass. The shoal bass is limited in range, and has strict habitat needs, such as slack water eddies near fast-flowing rapids, or shoals. They grow fast and big, over eight pounds, and will put a lift in your step handling one on a light spinning rod working around rocky outcrops. They look a little like a smallmouth but are certainly distinct. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, which received $9.8 million in 2024 in Sport Fish Restoration dollars, uses some of that to fund shoal bass research, the outcome of which should inform future management directions.

Nationally, Sport Fish Restoration dollars pay for the upkeep of nearly 9,000 public boat ramps and angler access points throughout the country and have funded 1,074 clean water and boating infrastructure projects, including sanitary sewer pump outs. In 2021, 321 state fish hatcheries stocked over one billion fish, 77 species in all. Sport Fish Restoration dollars pay for recruitment, retention, and reactivation endeavors to keep America fishing, and initiatives of the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation.

The recent 2022 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation documented that nearly 40 million people fished in freshwater and saltwater, combined. Additionally, 47.3 million people participated in motorboating. Clearly, these outdoor lifestyle choices and connections are important to a sizeable portion of the American people. And that said, it’s okay that the week-long celebration goes an extra two days. Fish on!

—Tom Decker is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Conservation Investment and manages its Branch of Communications, Analysis, and Partnerships.