State Senate committees advance sportfishing fee reduction and 12-month license proposal

SACRAMENTO — A bill proposing to reduce the sportfishing report card fee and create an option for an additional 12-month license made it out of two State Senate committees this month.

Assembly Bill 986, or AB 986, would open the door for California anglers to purchase a 12-month fishing license, albeit at a 30 percent premium of the calendar-year license.

The license, valid for 52 weeks from the date it was purchased, would cost $62.86 – more than $14 higher than the calendar year license ($48.34).

AB 986 would also offer a discount of 25 percent (and up to 50 percent in certain situation) for honorably discharged resident purchasing annual sportfishing license.

The State Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water, on June 12, endorsed AB 986 by a 9-0 vote; the bill earned unanimous support in the Veterans Affairs Committee (6-0 vote) on June 26.

Assembly members approved the bill by a 75-0 vote in late January.

A recent legislative analysis of AB 986 showed the bill had arguments in favor and against the proposal, which was introduced by Assembly member James Gallagher, R-Yuba City.

Arguments in favor of AB 986 state fishing license reform is necessary in light of statistics showing fishing participation has declined by nearly 60 percent since 1980 in California, despite the state’s population increasing by about 60 percent in the same time frame.

“A license purchased in January costs the same as a license purchased in December even though both expire on the same day. Many other states aiming to increase participation have switched to 12-month licenses (valid 365 days from date of purchase). AB 986 follows this model by giving anglers a 12- month license option. The bill also recognizes the sacrifices of our veterans by granting them a well-deserved discount on hunting and fishing licenses,” an argument in favor of AB 986 stated (as cited in the legislative analysis).

A cited argument against AB 986 stated sportfishing license sales generated $48 million-plus in revenue in 2016. Switching to a 12-month system, where the license is valid for 52 weeks regardless of when it’s purchased, would result $4.2 million to $15.6 million in revenue losses for California’s Fish and Game Preservation Fund.

“There have been 12 other states that have moved from a calendar year to 12-consecutive month license … [and] experienced a significant decline in license sales,” an opposition statement quoted in the most recent legislative analysis stated. “The decline was attributed to changes in license purchasing behavior.

“The states of Alabama, Texas, Georgia, New York and Virginia experienced license sales reductions between 7 and 31 percent when they changed to a 12-consecutive month license,” the cited opposition statement said.

The legislative analysis out of the State Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water acknowledged a 12-consecutive-month sportfishing license “is a popular bill idea” and added, “There is merit in trying new approaches to increase participation in hunting and sportfishing.”

“New approaches – including potentially a 12-consecutive month sport fishing license – may help to improve participation rates in California,” the committee’s legislative analysis continued. “It is important to note, however, that reduced hunting and sport fishing participation rates is a nationwide problem, not just California’s, and national organizations … are increasing efforts to address it.”

Funding concerns have been steady and consistent, however.

“Obtaining sufficient funding for all of the [Department of Fish and Wildlife’s] mandates has been an ongoing concern for many years – in fact, decades,” the most recent legislative analysis stated. “Last year … the Brown Administration identified a roughly $20 million structural annual budget deficit in the non-dedicated Fish and Game Preservation Fund, the department’s largest single fund source that supports ‘a multitude of program activities.’”

Gallagher’s proposal was heard in the State Senate’s Committee on Veteran Affairs on June 26. Visit fishrapnews.com for an updated status of this bill.

Photo Credit: NOAA West Coast Fisheries

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