The Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Program arose out of concerns by anglers, boaters, industry and government resource conservation agencies, that permanent, predictable funds were necessary to power state programs for fisheries conservation, boating access and recreational boating safety. Congress adopted such an approach in 1950 with the passage of the Sport Fish Restoration Act (know popularly as the Dingell-Johnson Act). Later amendments to this Act, which greatly expanded its funding base, came in 1984 from Senator Malcolm Wallop and (then Congressman) Senator John Breaux.
The Program is an outstanding example of a “user pays – user benefits,” or “user fee” program. In this case, anglers and boaters are the users. Anglers and boaters are responsible for payment of fishing tackle excise taxes, motorboat fuel taxes, and import duties on tackle and boats. These monies, along with other special fuel taxes on small engines, are deposited in the Department of Treasury, and are allocated the year following collection to state fishery agencies for sport fishery restoration, wetlands conservation, boat safety, and boating access and facilities projects. Each project must be evaluated and approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The benefits provided by these projects to users complete the cycle between “user pays – user benefits.” When the regional Federal Aid office approves a project, an amount up to 75% of the estimated cost of the project is set aside for the state to be reimbursed from the Sport Fish Restoration Account. The state must first expend the money on the project and is then reimbursed for up to 75% of the cost. The state share must be at least 25% of the cost and must be derived from a non-federal source.
Virginia’s apportionment is approximately 6.5 million dollars each year. The first 15.0% of Virginia’s allocation must be spent on motor boat access and the remaining funds are split between the Department of Wildlife Resources (63%) and Marine Resources Commission (37%) for freshwater sport fisheries and saltwater sport fisheries projects, respectively. Sport fisheries research and management activities, boating access development and maintenance, aquatic resource education projects, lake construction and maintenance, land acquisition, technical assistance, habitat enhancement, administration/planning, and hatchery construction are all allowable types of projects.
To receive Program funds, a state must have enacted legislation that prohibits sport fishing license fees from being diverted out of the state’s fishery agency. If the state’s fish and game director does not certify to the Secretary of the Interior that fishing license fees have not been diverted, the state is ineligible to receive Program funds. Furthermore, Sport Fish Restoration Program Funds are available only to state agencies responsible for managing the sport fishery resources of that state. However, universities, private organizations, other state agencies, or county and municipal governments, may cooperate with state fishery agencies on sport fishery development projects that are administered by the state fishery agency. The state is responsible for setting priorities and making project proposals to the USFWS.
For more information about the national Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Program, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service‘s Web site.