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By James DrakeHouse Bill 1307, if passed by the politicians in Annapolis during this 2012 legislative session, will substantially raise our boating fees.

Instead of paying the current charge of $24.50 for a two-year boat registration, it would cost most Maryland boaters $125 or even more for the really large boats.

The new fee structure would be phased in gradually and be fully in force by 2016.

I wrote about this in a recent column and the howling has begun.

One email I received read, ďI wish Maryland pols would leave our wallets alone. I canít hardly pay for gasoline anymore. Where am I supposed to get all this extra money?Ē

Thatís probably a very good representation of how most of us feel. It seems, again and again, Maryland politicians have found yet another way to stick it to us with added user fees and increased taxes.

To be fair, I contacted Bob Gaudette, director of Marylandís Department of Natural Resources Boating Services, to hear the other side of the story.

If you keep reading, you just might feel a little better about this particular increase.

For starters, Marylandís $24.50 boat registration cost has not changed since 1983. The money this fee generates, along with a five percent excise tax on new boat purchases, pays for Maryland to keep the channels dredged, maintain buoys and provide public facilities to the boating public.

Gaudette prepares the Boating Services budget and told me $41 million is the number needed when the next fiscal cycle begins.

This includes additional monies needed to pick up work the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used to do on boaterís behalf for free. Gaudette said the Army has its own budget cuts to overcome and will no longer consider the common boater as part of commerce in their overall plans.

It doesnít seem to matter that boating contributes up to $2 billion annually to Marylandís economy.

The Army used to dredge the shallower water channels boaters use to get into really deep water. In the future, only the major shipping channels will be dredged by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.

This represents about $6 million in former federal funds Maryland will have to make up if we want to continue to give recreational boaters and commercial watermen access to open water.

There is also a five percent excise tax charged on new boat purchases and this fund normally generated about $30 million per year.

Youíve heard of the recession right? It has had a huge impact on boat sales.

Senior BASS writer Louie Stout recently wrote about bass boating for Bassmaster magazine. In this article, Stout pointed out that prior to the big boating boom of the late 1990s, about 38,000 bassboats were sold every year in the United States. In 2011, that number had fallen dramatically to fewer than 6,000.

This should be no real surprise, for many people often financed their new water toys with home equity loans. Home equity is just a fond memory for many of us today, and that kind of financing just isnít happening anymore.

As a direct result of decreased boat sales, Maryland's revenue from that excise tax on new boat purchases has also significantly fallen.

Bottom line: Gaudette is projecting a need for $41 million and without these additional boat registration fees, he expects to see only about $15 million generated under the current system.

Thatís a serious shortfall and Maryland isnít going to be selling treasury bonds to the Chinese to make up the difference. That may be the customary policy for our federal government, but Maryland canít tap into that same well.

Gaudette has already seen staff cut in his department by 25 percent and really believes that $41 million in the budget is just for basic services and not to implement some new superfluous programs.

ďWe want boaters to have a safe and happy time out on the water,Ē Gaudette said.

If HB 1307 fails in Annapolis during this current session, Gaudette fears some necessary work will stop and present funding will only satisfy about 10 percent of the essential projects that fall under his DNR Boating Services departmentís responsibility.

Gaudette knows that local governments donít have extra money to step up to the plate, so whatís going to happen?

Which of the 400-plus public boating facilities do you want to see closed or how many of the 265 public channels should be deserted and allowed to silt over?

There are also 3,600 navigation and regulatory buoys and markers in state waters that need maintenance, abandoned boats and hazardous debris that needs to be addressed and support given to regular patrols and rescue responses by the Natural Resources Police.

Where do you start cutting? These could be tough choices, indeed, and maybe we just might start to consider giving our support for HB 1307.

How safe is hunting?

Hunting with firearms has got to be one of the most dangerous activities you could possibly get into, right?

You might think so, but you also might have thought a silent movie wouldn't have much chance to win an Academy Award.

The truth is, putting huntingís safety standing into perspective, compared to hunting, a person is 11 times more likely to be injured playing volleyball, 19 times more likely to be injured snowboarding, 25 times more likely to be injured cheerleading or bicycle riding, 34 times more likely to be injured playing soccer or skateboarding and 105 times more likely to be injured playing tackle football.

Last year, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, it is estimated that 16.3 million hunters went afield and approximately 8,122 sustained injuries or about 50 per 100,000 participants. The vast majority of these injuries, 6,600, were tree stand-related.

For another comparison, hunting has an injury rate of 0.05 percent, a safety level bettered only by camping (.01 percent) and billiards (.02 percent). Golf is even more dangerous at one injury per 622 participants (0.16 percent).

Itís not just hunting fields where firearms are being used safely, either.

The most recent data (2009) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that firearms constitute just 1/2 of one percent of all unintentional fatalities in the United States, including those in the home.

Attention herring dippers

Maryland has imposed a moratorium on all herring fishing, both commercial and recreational, effective Jan. 1.

The moratorium includes all coastal and other tidal waters for both alewife and blueback herring.

This action was brought upon by a ruling from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission that required states to have a sustainable herring population to continue fishing.

Marylandís herring population has been in decline for years, so the moratorium was imposed back Dec. 26 to take effect Jan. 1.

zbasser@aol.com