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Change in fishing license law could have a big impact on local lake

A bill that would end California’s creaky system of issuing fishing licenses that always expire the last day of the year—no matter when they are purchased—and replace it with one that is valid a full 12-months from the date of purchase, passed the Senate Unanimously May 31 and now awaits action in the Assembly Water Parks and Wildlife Committee.

Senate Bill 187, if adopted could prove a boon to local lakes and fishing, says the official in charge of Escondido’s two lakes.

Assemblywoman Marie Waldron of the 75h Assembly District, which includes Escondido (she also served on the Escondido city council before running for the assembly) was the co-sponsor of the bill in the Assembly. According to her chief of staff, Waldron’s interest in SB 187 is in keeping with her overall interest in promoting the outdoors.

In 2015 a similar bill failed to reach the Senate floor.

The Senate author of the bill, Senator Tom Berryhill commented, “This bill would not only improve access to recreational fishing, it will protect California jobs dependent on outdoor tourism.” He added, “Labor unions, state and local chambers of commerce, anglers, tourism groups and everyday Californians recognize that California’s antiquated fishing licensing program has proven to be a barrier to participation.”

The Times-Advocate asked Dan Hippert, lakes and open space superintendent for the City of Escondido, to give his take on how the bill might affect Escondido’s Lakes Dixon and Wohlford.

“I’ve had a chance to review the legislation, and it appears that this has been in the works for some time,” Hippert said. “I’m surprised that it’s taken so long to get put into place.  The DMV went to a 12-month registration years ago, and that seems to work.”

Will the bill have a positive impact on the city’s lake fishing?  “I believe it will,” said Hippert. “Anglers without a license will feel much better purchasing a license in October or November that will be good for an entire twelve months, rather than having to renew January 1.  Both Dixon Lake and Lake Wohlford have a specific season for trout, which always begins in November or December.  I’m certain we’ll see more anglers at Wohlford during these late months if they can purchase a license only once during the season.  It’s important to note that Dixon Lake has been granted an Aquaculture Permit by the state, which exempts us from the annual California fishing license requirement.   I don’t believe we’ll see much of a difference in attendance at Dixon if the bill passes.”

Hippert added, “I’ll be following the bill’s activity over the next couple of months to see if it has any wheels.  Let’s hope so!”

The bill sponsored by the California Sportfishing League (CSL) aims to address California’s costly and failing fishing license program by increasing fishing participation rates and license sales.

CSL is a nonprofit coalition of fresh and saltwater anglers, and businesses. California’s 2,795,253 million anglers generate $4.6 billion in economic activity annually.

“California’s costly and antiquated fishing license program is a contributing factor to an alarming decline in fishing participation rates,” said Marko Mlikotin, executive director of the CSL. “As fishing license sales face a death spiral, fishing’s economic contribution will continue to decline, as will revenue for state conservation and fishery programs.”

The legislation is also supported by a coalition of state and local organizations representing small business, labor, local government, travel, hospitality, marinas and boat manufacturers. The coalition argues that an unprecedented decline in fishing license sales threatens recreational fishing’s $4.6 billion annual economic contribution to California communities dependent on outdoor tourism, jobs and tax revenue.

“Recreational fishing generates billions of dollars annually in economic activity for our state and communities dependent on outdoor recreation for jobs and tax revenue,” said Barb Newton, president and CEO of the California Travel Association. “Making fishing less expensive and more accessible is not only critical to increasing participation rates, but protecting our state’s tourism industry.”

Before reaching the Governor’s desk, SB 187 must pass the State Assembly.

Despite its natural resources and size, California’s fishing participation rate has declined to dead last (per capita) in the United States.  According to a 2015 study conducted by the CSL, California’s annual fishing license is the costliest in the United States (w/permits). Sales of the state’s annual fishing licenses have declined over 55% since 1980, during which time California’s population increased over 60%.

When compared to other states, California’s annual license is 76% more expensive. Another contributing factor to declining sales is that the state’s annual license is not valid a full 12-months from the date of purchase, like the state’s annual park pass. Calendar-based fishing licenses expire on December 31 of every year, providing little to no incentive for anglers to purchase a license late in the year. Today, 11 states and Mexico offer a 12-month fishing license.

The State of Texas implemented a 12-month license program in 2005, and over the past five years (2012-16), they experienced an 11.8% increase in sales and a 12.58% increase in revenue (or $1.9 million). Maryland experienced similar success.

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