Fish and Game Commission broaches fishing license reform

LOS ANGELES — Fishing license reform could be on the horizon. How such reform could look like, though, is about as foggy as a June Gloom morning in coastal San Diego.

The Fish and Game Commission briefly broached fishing license reform at its October meetings in Los Angeles. Commissioners were asked to support or reject proposed changes in how California issues fishing licenses but, on Oct. 8, postponed making a suggestion to allow for a continued discussion on determining the best course of action to spur greater interest in recreational angling.

Fishing licenses within the state are granted from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31; anglers pay the same fee for the license regardless of when it is purchased. 

A State Senator introduced legislation earlier this year to change California’s practice of issuing fishing licenses for a calendar year to a 12-month system. The bill failed to gain traction among legislators in Sacramento.

Groups such as the California Sportfishing League (CSL) say a 12-month licensing system would reverse declining fishing participation in the state by starting a license’s clock from the date it was purchased, not Jan. 1.

The state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, however, contends the current system where annual fishing licenses expire on Dec. 31 regardless of when it was purchased allows California to receive key federal grants supporting the recreational angling industry.

Aiming to increase the number of licensed anglers in California was not up for debate, commissioners agreed. Seeking the best strategy to stifle and reverse declining fishing participation up and down the state was where minds differed, Commissioner Richard Sklar said.

“Everyone’s interest is aligned on this [but] we don’t have enough evidence of what’s happening in other states. If we are hasty we can actually cause more damage than good,” Sklar said, adding the logic says 12-month license makes more sense but questioned whether the facts might say something differently.

Sklar continued he wanted more facts to be presented to the commission before any recommendations were made by the state agency. His colleague, Commissioner Anthony Williams, agreed, saying he hopes the commission receives more facts before deciding what action to take.

Sonke Mastrup, the commission’s executive director, asked if there were other ways to increase fishing participation and said pursuing a 12-month plan may not be the best course to pursue.

Commissioner Jim Kellogg said there was evidence indicating 12-month licensing succeeding in some states but failing in others.

The Fish and Game Commission has no authority to actually change the licensing system; instead the agency is merely weighing in on the issue.

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