Stop Buying Virginia Saltwater Fishing Licenses

Stop buying saltwater licenses until politicians and fishery managers plan to use anglers’ funds as the state originally intended.

OPINION

Trophy striped bass, Virginia
Among the valuable programs that would be affected by transferring funds from recreational license sales into a general state resources commission kitty is the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament, a unique, data-rich citation program.Ken Neill

Anglers in Virginia have accepted the use of some of their fishing license money to help cover operating expenses of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. Though the license was established specifically to not do this, multiple budget cuts to the agency soon led to it needing help to continue its core missions.

Anglers continue to be asked to cover more and more of this burden. It is unacceptable to sacrifice core recreational programs to cover the VMRC’s budget.

Virginia’s saltwater anglers find themselves in an unusual position of power. The saltwater license was formed at the request of anglers to provide additional funding for recreational fishing enhancement. These funds were not to be used to replace general funds. This trust was broken and, following multiple budget cuts, most of this dedicated fund has been taken to cover losses of general funds.

The latest budget shortfalls have led to deeper raiding of the fund with more soon to come. Current recreational programs are being defunded so that money can also be taken.

The Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament, the citation program, is one target. This also includes the Junior Angler, Outstanding Angler, Annual Species and Game Fish Record programs. The VSWFT was begun to promote Virginia’s recreational fisheries. It has done that and much more. At a time when fishery managers are trying to develop mandatory reporting of recreational catches, Virginia has had the most effective voluntary reporting program on the east coast since 1958. Citation data is used in population trend analysis and often shows a change in the health of a fish population long before management tools such as stock assessments can do so.

For some of our wintertime fisheries, the citation program is our only source of catch data during January and February. This successful program is totally funded by Virginia’s recreational anglers.

Some are calling for the repeal of the recreational saltwater license as its funds are no longer being used as intended. These latest raids on the funds should and shall lead to calls and letters to representatives in Richmond to restore the license money. This has been done with some success in the past.

The last time the angler-funded citation program was cancelled and funds taken, public uproar resulted in the funds being returned and the program reinstated. More recently, license fee increases were rolled back by the General Assembly and returned to previous levels after anglers objected.

Ultimately, the power to decide how the license funds are used does not belong to the Governor, the General Assembly, or to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. The power resides in the anglers who established the license in the first place. If these funds are no longer being used as intended, don’t give it to the state.

Anglers have the ultimate ability to put a stop to this by literally doing nothing at all. Unlike commercial watermen who have to buy licenses to make money from fishing, Virginia’s recreational anglers collectively spend millions of dollars to buy licenses so that they can spend many more millions of dollars to go fishing.

Take a year off. Is there any quicker way to gain politicians’ attention than by taking money away? Don’t buy a license until you know the money will be used correctly.

This Thanksgiving notwithstanding, coastal anglers do not have to stop fishing cold turkey. There are too many other options. Spend more time fishing freshwater, or make this the year that you fish the Outer Banks. Also, anglers can limit their saltwater-license purchases. If you have more than one boat that you license, decide to just fish out of one this year. A group of fishing friends each of whom has his own boat can decide to just fish Johnny's boat for a while. You can make no change to your fishing activity and still send a message to Richmond by not buying a Virginia Saltwater license and purchasing one from the Potomac River Fisheries Commission. This license covers the Potomac River, Maryland's Chesapeake Bay, all the saltwater of Virginia, and it is less expensive.

Our elected officials in Richmond and possibly some at the Virginia Marine Resources Commission seem to have forgotten who this money belongs to. Virginia’s anglers have the power to remind them.

About the Author

Dr. Ken Neill with trophy tautog
Dr. Ken Neill with a Virginia record tautog (which can never be beaten if the state cancels the state's record program).Ken Neill

Dr. Ken Neill, III, a dentist who practices in Yorktown, Virginia. He serves on the Finfish Management Advisory Committee of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and is a member of the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament Committee. This is the group that manages Virginia’s trophy fish (citation) program and certifies and maintains state records. In 2013, he was appointed as an Associate Commissioner of the Virginia Marine Resource Commission. He is an International Representative of the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), He served as a member of the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Advisory Panel for the National Marine Fisheries Service and is a member of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Advisory Panel. Many IGFA and Virginia state records have been set on his boat. Neill has received the IGFA’s Conservation Award and awards for his service from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.