It’s been called the single most beneficial federal program for our boating and fishing industries — the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund — and it’s up for renewal in Congress. We cannot afford to see it reduced or eliminated.
Not familiar with it? The SFRBTF provides a whopping $742 million every year for boating access and infrastructure projects; fishery restoration, conservation and research programs; fish habitat and stocking efforts; and the award-winning national outreach efforts of the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, which stimulates participation in boating and fishing.
Further, as incredible as it may sound in today’s race to spend taxpayer money, the SFRBTF is a uniquely successful “user pay/public benefits” federal programs. That’s because its funding comes solely from excise taxes paid on fishing and boating equipment by the nation’s anglers and boaters, as well as a major amount from the federal powerboat fuel taxes paid by boaters.
The SFRBTF was introduced in 1950 with passage of the Dingell-Johnson Act, which created a federal excise tax on recreational fishing equipment. In 1984, our industry lobbied hard for passage of what was called the Wallop-Breaux Amendment, which expanded the program by adding the federal fuel taxes for powerboats and small engines. Overall, since its enactment, the trust fund has provided more than $38 billion (that’s a “B”) in funding for state-based boating access and safety programs, conservation initiatives, aquatic resources education, and fisheries management and restoration.
“There’s no question the SFRBTF has led the way supporting important programs for conservation and access,” says Chad Tokowicz, government relations manager for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. “This funding makes it possible for anglers and boaters to find more recreational opportunities and contribute to important conservation efforts simply by fueling up their boats and buying new fishing equipment.”
To move ahead with reauthorization the Sport Fish Restoration, Recreational Boating Safety and Wildlife Restoration Act of 2021 was recently introduced by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), who is also co-chair of the Congressional Boating Caucus; and in the House by Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Garret Graves (R-La.). The House bill also has five other original sponsors, including Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas), Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), and Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.).
It’s also notable that BoatUS reports there are several new provisions in the reauthorization bill. First is an effort to address derelict vessels, which includes the promotion of boat recycling programs. The second is to examine the growing use of non-motorized vessels on all types of waterway access and the resulting user conflicts and potential for increased boating accidents and fatalities, a study for which the NMMA has strongly advocated.
The bill also gives the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service more flexibility to effectively administer certain programs, such as the successful Boating Infrastructure Grant program that grows the availability of safe and protected harborage for transient boaters.
For our industry, the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund is a must-have. And while sponsorship of the reauthorization legislation is bipartisan, it would be foolhardy to assume it will easily sail through a Congress that likely couldn’t agree on the date for a New Year’s Eve party.
Bottom line: MRAA, NMMA and BoatUS all say everyone can join the push. And it couldn’t be easier for you and your employees. Go to the Boating United Action Alert and ask your members of Congress to support the Sport Fish Restoration and Recreational Boating Trust Fund, as the bills make their way through the House and Senate.