How exactly is the boating trust fund paid for?

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The boating and fishing industries enjoy $600 million in support from the Sportfish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund and every time it comes up for renewal in Congress we lobby hard for its continuation. Fortunately, the trust was reauthorized for five years late last year.

The trust fund has been around for many years. It does many great things the industry simply couldn’t afford to do for itself. That’s why I, like many of you, wrote letters to lawmakers urging reauthorization each time it has come up. But I was never curious about where the money actually comes from to feed the fund — until now.

Since the trust fund’s inception, more than $16 billion has been collected, distributed and, importantly, matched with funds from state agencies. These funds see wide-ranging use in important programs across the country from fish management to boating access. Some familiar ones include: the very successful Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation; Clean Marinas program; Boating Infrastructure Grant Program, to name some.

Looking more specifically, recreational boaters contribute the largest single portion with their federal motorboat fuel taxes. But that’s not all. Boaters also contribute a 3 percent excise tax when they buy electric motors and import duties of 1 percent to 2.7 percent on powerboats, sailboats, inflatables and rowboats.

On the fishing side, manufacturers, producers and importers of angling equipment also provide major funding. For example, sport angling equipment is taxed at 10 percent and includes fishing rods (maximum tax of $10) and component parts like guides, reel seats, rod blanks, ferrules and such.

Fishing reels are covered, too, including fly fishing reels, line up to 130 pounds test, fishing spears and spear guns. Terminal tackle, artificial baits, lures, hooks, jigs, sinkers and bobbers are also taxed. Add fishing vests, landing nets, gaffs, portable bait containers, tackle boxes and similar items.

Rounding out the list are: Outriggers, downriggers, rod belts, rod holders, fishing harnesses and, yes, even ice fishing gear.

The trust fund is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It’s important to note that a major source of total funds comes from the hunting and wildlife side with the imposition of a Federal Firearms & Ammunition Excise Tax paid by manufacturers, producers and importers.

Similarly, an 11 percent excise tax is collected on archery equipment covering virtually everything from bows to camouflaged bow covers. In addition, a tax of 48 cents is collected on all arrow shafts whether finished or unfinished. That rate can be adjusted upward each year.

So, as boaters and anglers, each time we or our customers purchase gas for the boat or fishing tackle (or hunting gear) for a day of angling, we are also contributing to a fund that might not be a household name, but steadily pushes toward a goal of growing and enhancing boating and fishing opportunities. With everything that doesn’t get done in Washington these days, this is one they’ve gotten right.


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