Bill would make fishing licenses valid for one-year from purchase
By JIM MATTHEWS
Have you purchased your annual fishing license yet for 2019?
Or will you wait, and just get a two-day license for that overnight yellowtail trip with buddies in June or the weekend with the family in the Sierra in August.
A lot of occasional anglers have been opting out of buying annual licenses in recent years. In fact, since 1980, the number of annual fishing licenses sold in the state has declined by more than 50 percent (while the state’s population has nearly doubled in the same period of time).
For the past couple of years, legislation has been introduced into the California legislature that would make annual fishing licenses valid for 365 days from the date of purchase rather than the January-December license system we have now.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife has been making a lot of noise about studying and implementing changes in the way the state manages hunting and fishing licenses and manages resources to increase sales, but the only thing to come of the effort is hot air and more studies. In fact, the state agency has been against this simply legislation in the past, which has been a key factor in why it hasn’t passed.
The reasoning for voting against the bill has been simply, “Well, if our state fishery professionals don’t think this is a good idea, we’re not going to vote for it.”
The actual scientific data shows this bill will help stem angler use declines and increase license sales and revenue for the state DFW. Yet, the DFW has opposed this legislation in the past. How can the same agency say it is worried about declines in license sales and revenue those declines cause and oppose legislation that will help?
A marketing and revenue study done by Southwick and Associates shows the 14 states that have transitioned to a 365-day license saw increases in number of licenses sold and revenue, when an auto-renewal option was added in Florida, there was an additional uptick of four percent in annual renewals of fishing licenses. The auto-renewal is also part of the legislation introduced last week in the California Assembly by Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa) and co-authored by James Gallagher (R-Yuca City) and a bipartisan group of 12 other legislators.
AB 1387 would not increase the fee of the annual resident California fishing license, the most expensive in the nation when you add the cost of the stamps most anglers purchase with their licenses. The bill also takes fishing licenses into this century with some sound features. First, it would make the license valid 365 days from when it is purchased. Second, the DFW would have to create a mobile application so anglers (and hunters) can display their licenses on mobile devices, reducing the number of paper licenses printed (fewer trees cut down, they’d have to love that right?). And last, it would allow anglers to sign-up for automatic renewals. None of this is rocket science, but this is the state of bullet trains and ammunition registration, so common sense appears to be a scarce commodity.
The California Sportfishing League (CSL), the fishing organization who has been hauling the water to get this common-sense legislation passed, has created an on-line petition in support of AB 1387. The link to that petition is here: https://opinionsmatter.wufoo.com/forms/stln0kd0jyinmc/.
The CSL is also working with the DFW on its R3 Action Plan. This is the DFW’s “plan” to “recruit, retain, and restore” the number of fishermen and hunters in the state. CSL must work within the political framework to get this common sense legislation passed (perhaps in spite of the DFW), so they are working with the state agency on this “plan.” We can’t judge them negatively about this; it’s part of the game.
However, you need to look at the 50-page document the DFW has created about the declining number of anglers and hunters, and their plan to bureaucratically turn it around. (You can read this document here: https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=165196&inline.)
Those 50-pages look like a path to failure to me, a way to bury the problem in paper work, and kick the can down the road. Maybe I’m just an old curmudgeon, but I think anglers have been telling the DFW for years why they’ve stopped buying licenses (or buy them grudgingly): The licenses cost too much and we get little in return for that investment. The DFW does less for anglers now than at any time in history, yet we pay more for the license than ever (fewer fish stockings, less habitat and fishery enhancement work, poor public relations to help anglers find places to fish, etc.). We also have DFW-promulgated regulations that have made fishing a quagmire of rules, dos, and don’ts. Do we really need a 50-page document and a year-long process of “discovering” all this again?
Where are the idea men in politics, in this DFW’s administrative staff, who see the problem and try to solve it instead of throwing more money at studying the issue? The sad part is that the agency has a dedicated field staff awash with ideas that would make fishing better, but those voices are silenced – just like the voices of anglers who have been trying to tell the agency what needs to be done for years. The current DFW solution: Let’s hire a bunch of non-anglers to study this problem and write a report we’ll ignore because it tells us what we’ve told for years.
Maybe we could take some of the bullet train money and reinvest it into our failing hatchery system, or use it to put panfish and bass habitat into urban lakes, or streamline regulations, or cut the cost of fishing licenses in half. There are lots of things we could do to start to turn the decline around, but bureaucratic hand-wringing and studies aren’t steps in the right direction.
Passing AB1387 is a step in the right direction. Maybe we can force the DFW to take this baby step. Sign the petition, call your representative, ask the DFW director to publically support this bill.
Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 909-887-3444.