Sport Fish Restoration: Where Money Does Buy Happiness

By Gary D. Novinger | October 2, 1995
From Missouri Conservationist: Oct 1995

A decade ago, an amendment to the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act resulted in an increase of federal money to support sport fish projects. This increase proved a boon for Missouri anglers and boaters - and for aquatic life in Missouri's streams and lakes.

You may not know about the Sport Fish Restoration Act, even though you may be helping to fund it with your purchases of fishing tackle and motor boat fuel.

The Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act was signed in 1950 by President Harry Truman. The legislation had been promoted by Rep. John Dingell Sr. of Michigan and Sen. Edwin Johnson of Colorado.

Appropriately called the Dingell-Johnson Act, this legislation earmarked excise taxes that were being paid by manufacturers on sales of rods, reels and other fishing tackle to be deposited into a special account for distribution to the states.

Each state receives an annual share, based on the state's land and water area, number of licensed anglers and amount of excise tax collected nationally each year. The act has proven to be an outstanding example of a "user fee" program, because those who use the resources are the ones who pay.

Before receiving any Dingell-Johnson money, states must submit project proposals for approval at the federal level. Money from the act can be used to fund up to 75 percent of each project; the states must provide the other 25 percent. In Missouri, the Conservation Department is the state agency that receives and dispenses this funding.

The Sport Fish Restoration Act of 1950 was a wonderful thing for sport fishing because state fish and wildlife agencies could use their limited budgets to get $3 for every $1 of state money. Sport fishing programs benefited greatly for the next several years. However, by the late 1970s it was apparent that the amount of money available to states was just not enough.

An amendment passed in 1984, under the leadership of now retired Sen. Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming and Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana, increased the number of fishing tackle items subject to the federal excise tax. It also added a portion of the federal excise tax on motorboat fuels and the import duties on imported fishing tackle and boats and made available to the states any interest earned on the money.

"The Wallop-Breaux program remains the cornerstone of our Congressional efforts to restore and maintain healthy fisheries nationwide," said Breaux, who enjoys recreational fishing. "Today, our citizens across the country enjoy improved recreational fishing and boating access at lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and the ocean. I am proud to be a continuing part of this essential and worthwhile program."

The effect of this Wallop-Breaux Amendment was an immediate three-fold increase in money. In Missouri, the amendment boosted funds available to the Conservation Department from about $800,000 before the amendment to almost $3 million in 1986, the first year money was provided from the expanded legislation. Now, 9 years later, the act makes available about $5.5 million annually for sport fishing projects in Missouri.

Historically, the Conservation Department has targeted 24 percent of this money for research studies; 28 percent for public lake management; 5 percent for private lake management; 8 percent for aquatic education; 12 percent for boating access development and 23 percent for hatchery or small lake development.

Missourians have always had a tradition of strongly supporting fish management in this state. Expansion of the Sport Fish Restoration Act has allowed the Conservation Department to dramatically and quickly improve habitat and sport fishing in rivers and streams. Although federal aid is not used directly for stream management projects, many other fish management projects could be supported with the new money, freeing state money for stream work.

The new stream fisheries management program that began in 1986 was broadened in 1989 to become a Conservation Department-wide effort called Streams for the Future. This program addresses both present and future stream needs and emphasizes citizen awareness of stream needs, services to stream-side landowners and managing public lands that contain streams and stream corridors.

Most Missouri ponds and lakes had great fishing even before the increase in Sport Fish Restoration money. Biologists have long managed lake fish populations and their habitats

The additional money, however, allowed biologists to more thoroughly evaluate the results of management practices, such as minimum size limits on crappie in large reservoirs. It also has allowed the addition of large brush piles as fish attractors in Bull Shoals, Norfork, Stockton and other lakes that have few trees in the water.

Thanks to the increased funds, the Conservation Department also can now more actively manage small city-owned lakes that are used for water supply or recreation and are managed by the Conservation Department to provide close-to home fishing. Currently, 122 small lakes totaling over 9,445 acres are in the Conservation Department's Community Assistance Program.

Money from the Sport Fish Restoration Act has allowed the Conservation Department to conduct important new research into state fisheries.

Projects are currently underway in streams to improve management of smallmouth bass, rock bass and crayfish in the Ozarks. Relationships between aquatic life, stream habitat and forest conditions near streams are being studied in north Missouri and the Ozarks. And a statewide survey of Missouri fishes is underway to reveal what changes have occurred over time.

The largest project funded by the Sport Fish Restoration Act is the Lost Valley Hatchery near Warsaw. When completed, this facility will be one of the most modern hatcheries in the nation and will produce fish for numerous management programs around the state.

If you are an angler or boater at Lake of the Ozarks, you probably know about Conservation Department accesses at Coffman Beach, Shawnee Bend and Niangua Arm. These accesses might not yet exist, if not for the federal money made possible by the Wallop-Breaux Amendment.

Aquatic Resource Education has been another direct benefactor of the increased funding. The Conservation Department has been able to expand this essential program and provide more fishing equipment and instructors for urban fishing clinics. In addition, educational materials have been provided to more than 75,000 teachers and one-half million students and inner city residents.

Volunteers have found ways to make those federal dollars stretch even further. For example, members of Muskies Inc., helped save money by working with biologists to add fish habitat structures in Pomme de Terre Lake.

The money that you contributed through the Sport Fish Restoration Act by buying rods, reels and other taxed items made these and many other improvements in Missouri's fishing possible. The Dingell-Johnson Act is an important piece of legislation and is well worth protecting, should it become necessary, with a letter or a phone call or a vote

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Kathy Love
Assistant Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Jim Auckley
Art Director - Dickson Stauffer
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Composition - Kevin Binkley
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Paul Childress
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Staff Writer - Charlotte Overby
Composition - Libby Bode Block
Circulation - Bertha Bainer