08-13-2012, 08:27 AM
Maryland DNR and Striped Bass
From Ken Hastings of Stripers Forever
Over the past 75 years, more than $14 billion raised via excise taxes levied on equipment used primarily in hunting and fishing has been channeled to wildlife and sport fish restoration efforts in the U.S. The funding mechanism, generally labeled the Wallop-Breaux Act (W-B) and amended and re-authorized over the years, has helped to finance and maintain a great variety of~ educational and ecological programs for the non-sporting public as well as for hunters and fishermen.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is responsible for administering W-B and ensuring that each state satisfies the statutory and regulatory mandates associated with W-B funding, including the requirement that the states submit detailed grant requests annually. Each state must also submit year-end fiscal and progress reports. FWS audits each state every five years to ensure compliance.
In 2012, almost $350 million was earmarked for sport fish restoration across the country. Maryland’s share was $3,497,637, or about one percent of the total.
In 1994, right after the coast-wide striped bass moratorium was lifted, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) decided to use a tagging program to ensure that the commercial striper harvest did not exceed the state’s established quota. Each fish harvested commercially would be tagged at the source. Rather than charge the fishermen for the tags, DNR decided to buy them with W-B funds.
DNR had to know that diverting money earmarked for sport fish restoration to subsidize the striped bass commercial fishery violated both the spirit and the letter of the law. DNR also had to know that this misuse of W-B funds would not go down well with the sportsmen who put up the money in the first place, or with the folks at FWS. So DNR simply did not mention the tagging project in its W-B grant applications.
FWS approved the grant applications and sent the requested funds to DNR. Not surprisingly, the year-end fiscal and progress reports from DNR did~not~include any mention of the tags
The tag funding cover-up continued unabated in Maryland for 17 years under different administrations and consumed more than $3 million until exposed in 2011. DNR has never conducted an official investigation of its cover-up. Instead, department spin doctors tried to put the blame on the FWS and insisted it was just doing what other Atlantic coastal state fishery managers do – dump W-B money into the department’s “general fund.”
The upshot is that recreational fishermen have been serving as cash cows for a long-running and fraudulent Maryland DNR program. Considering just how easy it was for DNR to hide this illegal action, are W-B funds being similarly diverted to “general funds” in other coastal states?
As recreational striped bass fishermen and benefactors of the resource, we urge you to put the question to your legislators. They represent you and it is their job to respond to your inquiries.
The simpler the outfit, the more skill it takes to manage it, and the more pleasure one gets in his achievements.” --- Horace Kephart