- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
By James Drake
Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources was recently found to have had its hand in the cookie jar, and it was you and I who paid for those cookies.
Specifically, this latest revelation is about funds that came into the state through the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Program, also commonly known as Dingell-Johnson or Wallop-Breaux.
Basically, this law directs the federal government to collect special taxes on recreational fishing equipment, the fuel we use in our outboards and the like, but then the money is returned to the states to be earmarked to enhance the angling experience for sport fishermen.
Buying land for new launch facilities, largemouth bass studies and trout stocking programs are all legitimate ways for states to spend this money.
However, since the mid-1990s, Maryland has diverted around $3 million from these funds to run their striped bass tagging program for commercial watermen. Maryland’s total share of sport restoration monies is about $3.4 million for 2012.
An investigation by Ken Hastings, a Maryland-based Stripers Forever board member, discovered this misuse of funds and also found that grant requests and year-end reports submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by Maryland’s DNR from 1994 to 2011 curiously failed to mention the commercial tagging program.
Stripers Forever is an organization dedicated to making striped bass a game fish and off limits to commercial exploitation all along the Atlantic coast.
“The investigation by Ken Hastings proves that anglers in Maryland unwittingly paid a large portion of the commercial fishermen’s regulatory costs for 17 years,” Stripers Forever President Brad Burns said. It’s also true that the recreational striped bass fishery in Maryland provides more jobs and much greater economic value to the state than the commercial fishery does.”
My good friend Gene Mueller (www.genemuellerfishing.com) emailed Thomas O’Connell, the current chief of Maryland Fisheries Service, and asked him if these charges by Hastings were true.
O’Connell emailed back to Mueller and admitted Maryland’s DNR had been using Wallop-Breaux funds for the purchase of commercial striped bass tags since the mid-1990s and said that when the questionable practice came to his attention last year, he immediately put an end to it.
“I do not believe this is a justifiable use of sport fishermen’s equipment excise tax revenues,” O’Connell added.
O'Connell was appointed chief in 2008 and we should all be glad he’s at the helm today.
You’ve got to wonder what his predecessors were thinking. Did they honestly believe using sport fishermen’s money to fund the commercial striped bass tagging program was somehow a justifiable use of these resources? Or, is this just more proof that Maryland's DNR is unfairly partial toward commercial watermen over the interests of recreational fishermen?
Instead of the money being used as it was intended, to enhance the outdoor experience by anglers who simply fish for fun, millions were spent to fund a tagging program to directly benefit commercial watermen. And don't forget it wasn’t the commercial watermen who made this money available in the first place. It was rather the extra taxes we paid for rods and reels, lures, landing nets and depthfinders.
You’ve also got to wonder if any more similar shenanigans are still going on in Annapolis today.
More hunters and fishermen
Most of us all know the Census Bureau counts all Americans every 10 years. This agency does other jobs, as well.
In the year immediately following the decennial census, the Census Bureau is commissioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to count America’s fishermen and hunters.
According to The Outdoor Wire, after decades of decline, the 2011 study clearly demonstrated the numbers of American hunters and fishermen are on the rise. The increase was significant.
According to this national survey, the Census Bureau found that hunters nationwide increased by nine percent and the anglers pool grew by 11 percent. Nearly 38 percent of all Americans participated in some kind of wildlife-related recreation in 2011. They collectively spent $145 billion on related gear, trips and other purchases, such as licenses, tags and land leasing and ownership.
This represents one percent of the nation's gross domestic product.
“Seeing more people fishing, hunting and getting outdoors is great news for America’s economy and conservation heritage,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in a recent press release. “Outdoor recreation and tourism are huge economic engines for local communities and the country, so it is vital that we continue to support policies and investments that help Americans get outside, learn to fish or go hunting.”
Other key findings:
In 2011, 13.7 million people, or six percent of the U.S. population 16 and older, went hunting. They spent $34 billion on trips, equipment, licenses and other related items for an average of $2,484 per hunter.
More than 33 million people 16 and older fished in 2011, spending $41.8 billion on trips, equipment, licenses and other items for an average of $1,262 per angler.
More than 71 million people engaged in wildlife watching in 2011, spending $55 billion on their activities.
Don’t mess with Texas
A property owner in rural Texas and his wife were outside their home recently and heard shots fired.
The husband, who had been heavily drinking, jumped into his vehicle and began to chase after the suspected gunmen. According to the official police report, when he got close to the alleged trespassers, he started shooting a pistol out of his window in an attempt to stop them.
The man then rammed the fleeing vehicle but in the process flipped his own ride and suffered serious injuries.
When the bullets starting flying at them, the men being chased immediately called 911. When the wardens finally arrived, the suspected criminals denied having weapons or shooting at anything.
Unaware that their 911 call had not been dropped, as they believed, in the background, officials could clearly hear someone say, “Hide the gun in them woods,” and “not that far, we’re gonna come back and get it tonight.”
After hearing the evidence of their own guilt, unmistakable on the 911 tape, the three men gave statements admitting to shooting at multiple animals from the road as well as committing numerous burglaries of homes and storage buildings in the area.
They also admitted to being on this particular ranch illegally and shooting a buck, leaving it to waste. A total of 24 charges were filed against this bunch.
As for the property owner, when he gets out of the hospital, he’ll have to answer to charges of DWI and deadly conduct.