Most dealers have heard of it, but can’t define it. Most manufacturers don’t know the details, either. Still, it’s a whopping $600 million program using public funds to annually boost boating and fishing and it’s up for reauthorization.
“These days we have lots of issues in Washington, but reauthorization of the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund is a giant,” says Larry Innis, the lobbyist for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. “Its benefits are wide-ranging and, therefore, probably not fully appreciated. But it does things for our industry we couldn’t do for ourselves.”
Innis reported a bill to reauthorize the trust fund has just been introduced in the Senate as SB 2028. It’s a very simple one-page bill that makes few changes. One is an increase from under $6 million to $7 million for boating safety grants to non-profits. Another sets up $200,000 to fund the National Boating Safety Advisory Council, an advisory group to the Coast Guard.
Where does the money for the trust fund come from? A combination of excise taxes on sportfishing equipment, import duties on fishing tackle and a portion of the federal gasoline tax attributable to small engines and motorboats, plus all interest credited to the fund.
How do we benefit from the trust fund? The fund pays out around $600 million per year for fresh and saltwater sportfish restoration through the states, including funds for aquatic resources education and boating access; boating and fishing outreach initiatives including the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s national campaigns; funds for state boating safety programs; construction of boat launching ramps; funds to build pumpouts under the Clean Vessel Act; and the construction of transient boat slips for boats over 26 feet. Let’s pause and drill down into this transient boat slips program.
Titled the Boating Infrastructure Grant program, or BIG, in 2013 it awarded more than $21 million in competitive grants to six states and one territory for transient dock construction to support boating, Receiving grants were Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In addition, $400,000 more in smaller grants went to six states willing to match the funds including Louisiana, New York, South Carolina, Florida, Washington and Wisconsin.
“The BIG program is one of many ways we support access and provide quality outdoor opportunities for the nation’s recreational boaters and anglers,” says assistant director Hannibal Bolton of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In so many valuable ways, the trust fund returns critical federal dollars paid by boaters and anglers to directly improve boating and fishing and increase participation nationwide. Many of the things these funds do are simply things our industry needs that we could not accomplish on our own. Therefore, reauthorization is, as Innis so aptly characterizes, a giant.