The Sinews of Fish Conservation – National Fishing and Boating Week A Time for Reflection

Fishing is foremost a self-governing endeavor—anyone can participate—from the youngest child to the seasoned angler. And it is in all cases an aesthetic exercise that connects one to nature like no other experience. Be it catching common carp with a stout rod in a city waterway; walleye trolled with downriggers in a Midwest reservoir; sunfish from a farm pond with a child’s out-of-the-box rod and reel combo; or cutthroat trout coaxed from a brushy pristine Rocky Mountain creek with a short 3wt fly rod…in each case, the monofilament is the sinew—the connective tissue—between the consumer and the source of significant and enviable conservation funding available to state fish and wildlife management agencies since 1950.

The passage of the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, or Dingell-Johnson Act, elevated fisheries conservation. Success begets success time and again.

In 2023, the states and territories received $424.6 million all derived from federal excise taxes paid by industry on tackle, import duties, and motorboat fuel tax. My home state of Vermont, one of the smallest in the Union, received $4.2 million. And how will these funds be used across the country? Let’s consider the ways.

Public boating and access: two years ago, nearly 9,000 public boat ramps and angler access points existed throughout the U.S. Over a seven-year period, state and territorial fish and wildlife agencies built 319 new boat ramps for anglers and recreational boaters to launch their crafts into public waters. During that same period, the agencies erected 1,074 clean water and boating infrastructure projects, including sanitary sewer pump outs.

Education: professional educators employed by the state and territorial fish and wildlife agencies continue to teach children and adults about fishing and the workings of nature—and how conservation is funded. Nearly 900,000 students have been trained in aquatic education to date.

Research, hatcheries, and scientific management: 321 hatcheries operated by state and territorial fish and wildlife agencies stocked one billion fish, 77 species in all, in 2021.

Maybe you were among the 9.6 million anglers who fish for black bass produced in 30 hatcheries; their populations are scientifically managed in 49 states and territories. Recent research on smallmouth bass over 13 states produced a management tool useful to multiple state fish and wildlife agencies, again, paid for by excise taxes.

Perhaps you like to catch crappie and enjoy the batter-fried fillets; 7.8 million anglers fish for crappie in 41 states, and 23 of which manage wild populations with hatchery augmentation.

Salmon, lake trout, and steelhead fisheries are quite significant in the Great Lakes.

Sport Fish Restoration dollars fund artificial reef development along the coasts. The state fish and wildlife agencies publicize reef habitat locations so that anglers can easily motor out to them.

Native trout in the West have a surging interest, particularly among fly fishers. Anglers travel great distances to catch any one of the 13 cutthroat subspecies that exist from Alaska to New Mexico. The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ Western Native Trout Initiative encourages anglers to catch these fish and learn more about their conservation needs. The state fish and wildlife agencies offer rewards such as Utah’s Cutt Slam; catch the state’s four subspecies and you’ll earn an attractive coin.

Fishing has its inherent rewards, no matter the species, no matter how many fish you catch. So, start your next adventure, make some memories, and we hope to see you on the water.

—Tom Decker is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program and manages its Branch of Communications, Analysis and Partnerships.