The fiscal cliff is downright scary for the future of conservation in America. We have to get America’s budget in order, but agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Interior have already had to make painful cuts, and another round of across the board cuts to conservation programs will do more harm than good.
For instance, NOAA oversees the scientific collection and analysis of information for offshore fisheries that generate tremendous revenue for the Nation—from the multi-billion dollar recreational fishery in the Gulf of Mexico to the prized commercial fisheries of the North Pacific.
Across-the-board cuts will not only diminish the ability to prevent overfishing and depletion of national fishery resources that are at risk, they create a bottleneck to expand fishing opportunities and grow coastal economies where hard work has been done to rebuild once-depleted fisheries.
Nowhere is the folly of across-the-board cuts to solve the fiscal cliff crisis more apparent than in the U.S. Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Sport Fish Restoration Program.
The Sport Fish Restoration Program evolved from anglers and industry voluntarily agreeing to a special excise tax on various fishing equipment and fuel for small engines like boats. Through a phenomenally successful grant program, the USFWS has sent billions of dollars collected from the tax over the years to every state funding fresh and saltwater fishery conservation work.
One would think that an excise tax, which will still be collected even if cuts are made, would be immune from the fiscal cliff, but the Sport Fish Restoration Program could be cut by $34 million if a fiscal cliff deal that protects important programs like this one isn’t put in place.
When I tell folks my conservation ethic was born when I caught my first fish in a mall in Chicago, they scratch their heads and say “what kind of fishermen, let alone conservationist are you?” I reply, “I learned that catching fish is fun and you can’t experience that unless you protect and conserve the species and habitats that make fishing great in America”.
Thoughtfully addressing the fiscal cliff is the answer. America is a great country because we’ve made smart choices. Preserving voluntary tax programs for conservation, like the Sport Fish Restoration Program, sets a precedent rewarding those willing to pay a little extra to protect our natural resources. Maintaining full funding for programs that support America’s fisheries isn’t only the right thing to do, it’s just plain smart; like the creative guy who hooked me on fishing in that mall long, long ago.