State politicians appear to be pursuing reform, but are efforts enough to reverse dwindling participation?
STATEWIDE — Uttering the phrase “death spiral” to any situation is rarely – if ever – a cause for optimism or celebration. So, in 2015, when the California Sportfishing League (CSL) reported California’s recreational fishing participation was, because of our licensing system, as being under threat of a death spiral the natural assumption was local watering holes were populated with a record-low number of anglers.
Perhaps the shock value of uttering “death spiral” was intended to light a fire under the seats of state legislators, urging them to update policies in the name of reigniting an industry some say is dying a slow death at the hands of bureaucratic lawmaking.
The 2015 CSL report stated recreational fishing participation declined by 55 percent within a 35-year period between 1980 and 2014. Participation declined despite a steady population growth within California during the same time period.
CSL Executive Director Marko Mlikotin identified two factors as to why fewer fishing lines appear to be dropping into onshore or offshore waters.
“Some of the major barriers to fishing are cost and value,” Mlikotin said, adding state legislators could immediately boost fishing participation by shifting the state’s practice of charging fees to a 12-month – as opposed to a calendar year – basis.
Indeed some of pointed fingers and glaring blame-stares were directed at California’s appointed policymakers and lawmakers, claiming they were responsible for the state’s dwindling participation numbers. Our rigid fishing policies were archaic and did not proactively support fishing activity, they argued.
Take the state sportfishing license fee, for example. Any California angler aged 16 or older must pay the state $47.01 (compared to $5 in 1980) for a fishing license that expires on Dec. 31 (of the year it was purchased). An angler purchasing the license on July 1 pays $47.01 no different from another angler buying the same license, say, six months earlier – yet both will expire on Dec. 31. The July 1 purchase would literally behalf the value of a license bought on Jan. 1.
The $47.01 fee might be a significant cost increase from the $5 rate in 1980 – even when adjusted for inflation ($5 in 1980 equates to $14.78 today, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Yet where’s the incentive to purchase a license if it’s not bought within the first few weeks of the year?
It doesn’t require a PhD to associate the reported drop in angling participation with California’s inflexible system for purchasing fishing licenses. State Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, introduced Senate Bill 187 earlier this year, reviving attempts to reform California’s sportfishing fee collection standards.
“These bills don’t reduce price but bring added value. These reforms are critical,” Mlikotin said, pointing out declining license sales ultimately translate to diminished economic impact of the recreational fishing industry as a whole.
Mlikotin added the current suite of bills on the Assembly and State Senate floors would go a long way in increasing participation rates.
The CSL website also cites a few other reasons why sportfishing participation in California could be in decline. For example CSL states the California Marine Life Protection Act “limits or prohibits recreational angling in the most productive waters of California’s ocean coastline.”
At least one angler, however, does not seem concerned with the state of sportfishing in California.
Local fisherman Isaac Lemus said he does not believe California’s sportfishing license fees are too expensive, nor is the Department of Fish and Wildlife putting up any barriers to recreational fishing participation.
“Every landing and the boats charge fare prices. At times captains put money from their pockets to make sure all the fishermen get what they came for,” Lemus told The Log.
He added the state actually makes an effort to get anglers out on the water.
“On the contrary the Fish and Game Department comes up with new ways every year to make getting a fishing license easy for any new or experience angler,” Lemus said.
One area where state officials could become more proactive in increasing recreational fishing activity, according to Lemus, is in putting on more derbies and urging young people to take up angling.
Interestingly enough there is a bill on the legislative floor aiming to make recreational fishing more accessible to minors. The proposal would specifically make fishing free to non-adult residents. Current law allows anyone younger than 16 can fish for free, but a proposal making its way through Capitol Hill hopes to adjust the maximum age for cost-free angling to 18.
Mlikotin said more than 70 percent of anglers learn to fish as a child and stick with it through adulthood. Making fishing more accessible to the youth, he said, would certainly go a long way in bolstering the state’s angling participation.
“Making fishing less expensive for kids is common sense,” Mlikotin said.
The state (under Senate Bill 234) could also require California’s Fish and Game Commission to study where illegal ordinances – such as ones restricting public access to fishing – exist.
There is also a bill proposing to make the Fish and Game Commission more transparent by requiring the agency to provide free and live broadcasts of its public meetings.