Wearing many hats in the outdoor industry, I find it important to keep abreast of the issues facing sportsman all across America. After all, my passions often shift from bass to ducks to bonita all in the course of a week, so the least I can do is keep an ear to the ground for news.
In recent weeks, I’ve sorted through several emails singing the praises of new legislation being proposed that, supposedly, benefit sportsmen. Specifically, these include the House of Representatives (H.R.) Bills 200 (known as the Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Bill) and 4647 (known as the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act).
At first, they sound good, and both seem to have universal support all across the outdoor world. But, as I found by digging a little deeper, there may be more to them than meets the eye. Now, I’m a bit rusty in my legal jargon, as my last formal training came in an 8th-grade Consumer Law class, but I’ll do my best to lay down the foundations for us.
For starters, H.R. 200 is circling around the saltwater community with more promotion than a sale on ballyhoo. And, while I realize our primary passion here is freshwater bass fishing, many of us occasionally dip our toes in the salt.
When reading through the press releases for H.R. 200, I was impressed by the overall goal of the bill: to finally place just as much importance on recreational fish stocks as commercial, in terms of management. However, I quickly became frustrated by a lack of substance in the language.
As I slogged through the press release, I kept reading promise after promise of how us fishermen are finally going to get our day in court. What I never discovered was how all of this was going to happen.
Bewildered by government mumbo-jumbo, I took on the unthinkable and actually read the bill in its entirety. Struggle that it was, H.R. 200 did make some valid points – most specifically a restructuring of the catch/share structure affecting many of today’s popular saltwater fish. However, the largest portion of the bill seemed to deal with re-wording of what a “depleted vs. over-fished” fish stock was, how much “flexibility” there was in “rebuilding depleted stocks”, and how to set up jurisdiction for states to have more control of their waters. In all, the H.R. 200 seemed like a possible step backwards in preserving fish stocks that are in trouble, and instead was just attempting to find ways for anglers to get more of the take.
The bill sure didn’t seem to disfavor the commercial fishing industry, as the corresponding press release would have us believe. In any case, I urge you to keep an eye on any news of H.R. 200 and dissect it where possible. I’ll do my best to report back here with an impartial take.
Moving on to H.R. 4647: here we seem to have a bill we can all believe in. While I’m skeptical that the bill will ever come to fruition as law, if so, it’s a real win-win.
The plan the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is to direct federal funds derived from oil, gas and mining leases on federal lands toward game and fish. The bill is based on the principle that it's important to the United States:
• to retain for present and future generations the opportunity to hunt, fish, observe, understand, and appreciate a wide variety of fish and wildlife;
• to recover species of fish and wildlife listed as threatened species or endangered species, and
• to support collaborative and proactive conservation that will sustain the diverse fish and wildlife populations of the United States.
Agreed on all counts. Even more compelling is the means of funding to ensure these values. The bill outlines the current funding system, dominated by programs where sportsman voluntarily tax themselves through excises on the purchase of licenses and equipment, known as the Pittman-Robertson act. H.R. 4647 goes on to explain that this system, as an entire means of funding, is not working, and more money needs to be directed toward fish and game.
To do so, the bill outlines the creation of a “Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Subaccount” to be funded by “Outer Continental Shelf Revenues” and “Mineral Leasing Act” revenues to the tune of $1.3 billion.
Billion. With a “B”.
Again hungry for the truth, I did a little investigating and was shocked to learn that revenue collected by leasing government lands for the purpose of oil, gas and mining operations runs into the tens of billions of dollars annually. This money is then partially redistributed in various ways: historic preservation funds, land and water conservation, Native American tribes and others. Also, a part of the money is bankrolled by the U.S. Treasury.
The potential for fish and wildlife managers to get their hands on a portion of that money and use it directly to benefit wildlife and sportsmen is like a dream come true. After all, our lands and waters are being used to generate this incredible income, right?
Here I must admit: I’m often skeptical of any “progress” being made in terms of oil, gas and mining. In this case, however, we see a positive example, employing thousands of Americans and potentially making an impact on millions of others through progressive conservation.
Again, stay informed. In a time when the government can’t seem to appease anybody, this may be one issue we can all agree to hold on to.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)