Some fishing groups are telling the Division of Wildlife Resources that it's time to raise license fees. We agree, but only to a point.
The current fee of $26 for an adult resident seems pretty reasonable. That entitles you to fish the state's waters for a year. Most folks probably spend more than that in one visit to a tackle shop or for gasoline to get to the lake or stream.
The fishing groups, including the Utah Anglers Coalition, believe that the DWR should raise the fee by $6 to make up for some of the revenue cuts the agency has taken in recent years. To make ends meet, the DWR has dipped into its reserve account, even after laying off the equivalent of 25 full-time employees (though no actual full-time workers were let go).
The fishing groups are rightly concerned about the agency preserving its ability to manage the fisheries properly. Recent decreases in federal excise-tax revenues from fishing tackle sales have cut deeply into funds to operate hatcheries, for example.
DWR chief Jim Karpowitz plans to ask the Legislature to raise license fees next year, with the boost taking effect in 2013. The anglers' groups believe the hike should come sooner.
But Karpowitz doesn't want to hit anglers in the wallet while the economy is tough. He realizes that anglers come from all economic classes, from rich to poor.
That's a good argument so long as the agency is able to do its job, but the time for higher fees is coming. After all, the agency has only increased the fee for an adult license by $2 since 1992. The last increase came in 2003.
License fees are critical to the DWR budget. They account for 45 percent of revenues. General tax revenues provide only 9 percent. Another 31 percent comes from federal funds, and the remaining 15 percent comes from a variety of sources, from contracts to fines. The agency's operating budget is about $67 million and, since the budget cuts that came during the Great Recession, it has remained fairly stable.
However, the number of hunters has been declining for decades, and the number of fishers is relatively stagnant. That points to a need to raise license fees to maintain the resource.
Hunting already subsidizes fishing by about $2 million, because hunting fees were raised in 2008.
So it's time for fishers to carry their own creels. A modest fee hike is the way to go.