California could still earn $600 million from fishing license revenues this decade.
STATEWIDE — If you want to understand the frustration of the everyday American voter, look no further than California’s angling community. Anglers up and down the state spent about two-thirds of 2017 believing they’d realize the fishing reform they long sought: the ability to buy a sportfishing license for a full 12 months, regardless of purchase date. Dreams of efficient consumerism were dashed when a California Assembly committee, despite overwhelming support from several corners and no known opposition, opted not to move forward with Senate Bill 187 (SB 187).
The bill, proposed by State Sen. Tom Berryhill, would have changed California’s calendar-based licensing system to a 12-month program, giving the state’s anglers greater value for their license purchases.
Proponents of SB 187 argued the bill would have mandated common sense reform to California’s fishing licensing system. The system currently in place, after all, effectively devalues any fishing permit not purchased on the first day of any given year. An angler who purchases a California fishing license on Jan. 1 is the only person who receives maximum value for his or her purchase – all others are buying into a depreciating asset from Jan. 2 onwards.
So why would a (seemingly common sense) plan to establish a 12-month fishing license system – which had widespread support and no on-record opposition – fail to reach the governor’s desk for possible signature? Who is the silent party lurking in the dark, pulling the puppet strings in our legislature and preventing a non-controversial proposal from going forward?
The Assembly’s Appropriations Committee – which was chaired by a representative from San Diego – did not provide an explanation as to why it did not advance SB 187 to a full vote.
Marko Mlikotin, executive director of California Sportfishing League (CSL), spoke with The Log shortly after the Assembly Appropriations Committee failed to recommend SB 187 for a full vote. He was at a loss to explain the bill’s death.
Berryhill was a little more optimistic, however, in his acknowledgement of defeat. The veteran legislator, in a released statement, said his quest to establish a 12-month fishing license system is still alive.
“I’m sad to say SB 187, my bill that would have created a 12-month fishing license, died over in the Assembly. However, as luck would have it, I was able to get similar language into a new bill, [Senate Bill 518],” Berryhill stated. “I believe the new language will be able to get a majority of support. I will be fighting hard for this one next year.”
Yet the question still remains why SB 187 failed to make it out of the Assembly despite earning unanimous votes in the State Senate and other legislative committees. Berryhill might be enthusiastic about his chances to realize fishing license reform for California’s angling community with SB 518, but anglers believed real change was on its way with SB 187.
Angling interests were both hopeful and adamant of Berryhill’s legislative campaign to reform California’s fishing license system. The Central California legislator proposed similar legislation in 2015, but that bill also failed to make it out of the State Assembly.
So why is there such an effort – and associated frustration when said efforts fail – to reform California’s fishing license system?
For starters, there’s the aforementioned statement of fishing licenses literally losing their respective values as each day passes. There is no incentive to purchase a fishing license in, say, October, particularly when you are paying the same amount as someone who purchased a license in January (and both licenses expire on the same day).
Anglers and angling lobbyists, however, also argue California’s current licensing paradigm translates into diminishing fishing participation in the state.
A CSL study in 2015 stated annual fishing license sales dropped by 55 percent between 1980 and 2014. An estimated 2.26 million fishing licenses were purchased in 1980, compared to roughly 990,000 license purchases in 2014, according to the CSL study.
The diminished participation, however, hasn’t necessarily been associated with dwindling revenues, which, it could be argued, might disincentive the powers that be from changing the system.
Fishing license sales yielded more than $65 million for the state in 2016. Similar revenues could be achieved this year, according to Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) statistics. Anglers spent more than $54 million in fishing licenses through the first eight months of the year.
California earned nearly $440 million from fishing license sales between 2010 and 2016. This year’s sales will likely put revenues over the $500 million mark. License sales for the entire decade, if the current trend persists, will likely exceed last decade’s numbers. The state earned more than $565 million from fishing license sales between 2000 and 2009, a number likely to be eclipsed in late 2018 or early 2019.
Annual revenues from fishing license sales, according to DFW statistics, were at $21.5 million in 1980 (or about $61 million in today’s money, when adjusted for inflation), by comparison.
Obviously anglers and recreational fishing interests would argue the state could earn even greater revenue if California shifted from a calendar to 12-month system. Yet it’s also hard to change a program when it’s on target to yield about $600 million of revenue this decade alone.
Nonetheless the question still persists: who stands to benefit by maintaining the status quo? Perhaps it could be conjecture to claim a shift to 12-month fishing licenses would result in increased revenues for the state – we won’t know one way or the other until the system is actually in place, right?
However why not go forward with a seemingly common sense proposal, especially when there is no on-the-record opposition? Quashing a seemingly sensible proposal with no recorded opposition certainly creates an environment where voters do not trust their legislative representatives.