From Stripers Forever

The following report by SF board member Ken Hastings of Maryland shows how funds raised under the Wallop-Breaux Act through excise taxes on equipment used primarily by hunters and fishermen can be illegally misapplied.

Ken explains that for many years in Maryland, the Wallop-Breaux funds that by law should have been dedicated to enhancing recreational fishing opportunities were instead siphoned off to buy tags for commercial striper/rock fishermen, so they wouldn’t need to pay for the tags themselves.

The current chief of Maryland Fisheries, Thomas O'Connell, in an e-mail to outdoor writer/blogger Gene Mueller, admitted that the Maryland DNR had been using Wallop-Breaux funds for the purchase of commercial striped bass tags since the mid-1990s. O’Connell said that when the illegal practice came to his attention last year, he immediately put an end to it. “I do not believe this is a justifiable use of sport fishermen's equipment excise tax revenues,” O’Connell added.

The way we see it, the recreational fishery for striped bass in Maryland -- which has more jobs and much greater economic value to the state than the commercial fishery -- is being degraded severely by the commercial fishing effort. At the same time, recreational fishermen have unwittingly paid the commercial fishermen’s regulatory costs!

By eliminating the commercial fishery for striped bass, Maryland and other coastal states with commercial striped bass operations would pick up jobs and economic activity. Striped bass aquaculture would very quickly fill the demand for striped bass at market, and funds gathered from anglers through programs like Wallop-Breaux would be used as the legislation intended – to enhance recreational fishing opportunities.

Take a minute and read Ken Hasting’s report below. You will be shocked at the revelations.

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Over the past 75 years, more than $14 billion raised via excise taxes levied on equipment used primarily in hunting and fishing has been channeled to wildlife and sport fish restoration efforts in the U.S. The funding mechanism, generally labeled the Wallop-Breaux Act (W-B) and amended and re-authorized over the years, has helped to finance and maintain a great variety of~ educational and ecological programs for the non-sporting public as well as for hunters and fishermen.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is responsible for administering W-B and ensuring that each state satisfies the statutory and regulatory mandates associated with W-B funding, including the requirement that the states submit detailed grant requests annually. Each state must also submit year-end fiscal and progress reports. FWS audits each state every five years to ensure compliance.

In 2012, almost $350 million was earmarked for sport fish restoration across the country. Maryland’s share was $3,497,637, or about one percent of the total.

In 1994, right after the coast-wide striped bass moratorium was lifted, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) decided to use a tagging program to ensure that the commercial striper harvest did not exceed the state’s established quota. Each fish harvested commercially would be tagged at the source. Rather than charge the fishermen for the tags, DNR decided to buy them with W-B funds.

DNR had to know that diverting money earmarked for sport fish restoration to subsidize the striped bass commercial fishery violated both the spirit and the letter of the law. DNR also had to know that this misuse of W-B funds would not go down well with the sportsmen who put up the money in the first place, or with the folks at FWS. So DNR simply did not mention the tagging project in its W-B grant applications.

FWS approved the grant applications and sent the requested funds to DNR. Not surprisingly, the year-end fiscal and progress reports from DNR did~not~include any mention of the tags.

The tag funding cover-up continued unabated in Maryland for 17 years under different administrations and consumed more than $3 million until exposed in 2011. DNR has never conducted an official investigation of its cover-up. Instead, department spin doctors tried to put the blame on the FWS and insisted it was just doing what other Atlantic coastal state fishery managers do – dump W-B money into the department’s “general fund.”

The upshot is that recreational fishermen have been serving as cash cows for a long-running and fraudulent Maryland DNR program. Considering just how easy it was for DNR to hide this illegal action, are W-B funds being similarly diverted to “general funds” in other coastal states?

As recreational striped bass fishermen and benefactors of the resource, we urge you to put the question to your legislators. They represent you and it is their job to respond to your inquiries…

* For a detailed look at the Wallop-Breaux Act, go to~http://www.fws.gov/laws/lawsdigest/FASPORT.HTML