Since its creation in 1950, the Sport Fish Restoration Act has been refined and expanded by Congress. It is unquestionably the most valuable federal legislation for anglers and fishery resources, delivering millions each year to state fishing and boating programs. It is also the core funding for each state’s fisheries conservation efforts.
The Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund (Trust Fund) – as it is called now – is a permanent and indefinite federal program, but it could not continue to be as effective as it has without one of its major sources of funding from the Federal Highway Trust Fund.
Every several years, the Highway Fund, usually as part of a nationwide transportation bill, must be reauthorized in order for the Trust Fund to capture the revenue that it is legally authorized to collect from the part of the federal fuel tax attributable to motor boat and small engine use.
On December 1, Congressional conferees reached a 5-year agreement to operate and fund national highway and surface transportation. Unlike patchwork bills seen in the past few years, the agreement, called the FAST Act, is fully funded at $305 billion, passing just days before its expiration date. The contentious hang-up over funding was resolved by transferring $70 billion worth of offsets from the General Treasury. ASA with its partners in the Angling & Boating Alliance prevailed in securing funding of approximately $600 million per year for the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund. Another positive feature of the reauthorization is resilience language that charges municipalities with designing infrastructure to withstand intense weather events, which will benefit fish and wildlife habitat connectivity. The conference agreement cleared the House and Senate on December 3, and the President signed it into law on December 4.
The Angling and Boating Alliance (ABA), of which ASA is a member, is an ad hoc coalition of national recreational boating, angling, outdoor recreation organizations, conservation groups, and state boating safety and natural resources agencies committed to the sustainable future of the SFRBTF. The ABA was created to find consensus and promote the reauthorization to Congress.
For several years starting in the 112th Congress the ABA has been dedicated to ensuring that reauthorization would secure the Trust Fund’s continued vitality and success as a “user pay, user benefit” program. In recognition of the current economic climate and the importance of maintaining the SFRBTF, the ABA agreed to support the reauthorization of the Trust Fund as the most recent statute was written with continued full funding. During its spring 2011 meeting, ASA’s Government Affairs Committee voted to adopt the position of the ABA.
In July 2012, the Federal Highway Trust Fund was reauthorized by Congress and signed into law by President Obama. This legislation reauthorized the SFRBTF for another 27 months and was directly in line with ASA’s and the ABA’s position. The ABA will continue to support the vitality of angler and boater access, fishery conservation and boating safety programs through the Federal Highway Trust Fund.
On September 14, 2012 the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released its recommendations for budget cuts that include withholding parts of the Trust Fund, a move that would have a significant impact on fisheries conservation and the jobs it supports. OMB’s action was triggered by the failure of the Congress and the Administration to enact a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion, as required by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Sequestration went into effect on Friday, March 1, 2013 and the Trust Fund was cut by 5.1 percent. These monies will be released to the states in FY2014, however sequestration will be reapplied every year until FY2019.
The Sport Fish Restoration Program was established in 1950 by the Dingell-Johnson Act with the support of the sportfishing industry, state and federal fish and wildlife agencies and anglers and boaters. The act established a 10 percent excise tax on certain fishing equipment to fund various projects designed to enhance sportfishing in all 50 states. The Recreational Boating Safety Program was established in 1971 to fund boating safety and education programs, and amended in 1980 to draw its funding from taxes on motorboat fuels. These programs were combined in 1984 under the Wallop-Breaux Act.
The Wallop-Breaux amendment expanded the 10 percent excise tax to nearly all sportfishing equipment and captured over half of the federal motorboat fuel taxes that were paid by boaters and anglers. This combination substantially increased the funds collected by the federal government to be returned to the states for fishing and boating-related projects such as sport fishery restoration, wetlands conservation, boat safety and boating access programs. In order to receive these federal dollars, state fish and wildlife agencies must dedicate all money raised from the sale of fishing licenses to fisheries conservation.
The Wallop-Breaux Act must be reauthorized as part of the Federal Highway Trust Fund in order to capture the revenue from that part of the federal fuel tax attributable to motor boat and small engine use. The Act will reauthorize the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, which funds important state fish and wildlife agency angling and boating programs such as fisheries monitoring; habitat conservation and restoration; fishing and boating access facilities such as docks, piers, and boat ramps; and education and safety programs for anglers and boaters.
In 2014, the Trust Fund had $625 million in revenues, $326 million of which was apportioned to the 50 states and U.S. territories specifically for sport fish restoration and angler access. Funds for sportfish restoration from the Trust Fund are appropriated to the states based on license sales and water area.
The Trust Fund was set to expire in 2016, so in 2015, Reps. Garrett Graves (R-La.) and Gwen Graham (D-Fla.) introduced H.R. 3462 to make some policy and funding adjustments to the way money from the fund is distributed. However, the bill did not get floor time at the committee level.
In December 2015, Congressional conferees reached a five-year agreement to operate and fund national highway and surface transportation. Unlike patchwork bills seen in the past few years, the agreement, called the FAST Act, is fully funded at $305 billion, passing just days before its expiration date. The legislation includes minor policy changes to the Trust Fund and, most importantly, it secures funding of approximately $600 million per year.
Another positive feature of the reauthorization is resilience language that charges state and local governments with designing infrastructure to withstand intense weather events, which will benefit fish and wildlife habitat connectivity. The conference agreement cleared the House and Senate on December 3, and the President signed it on December 4, 2015.