Editor’s Note: Excise taxes on sporting goods collected in Maryland were illegally spent on commercial fishing projects, according to an investigation by Stripers Forever, as reported in the following press release. Conservationists questioned why the federal administrators had not challenged the commercial spending if the allegations are documented as alleged. It was also suggested that a closer look is in order regarding use of the Sport Fish Restoration funds in other states, which amounts to many millions of dollars raised specifically for recreational purposes. 

Photo taken by Dave Azar

Over a period of 17 years, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) illegally used more than $3 million in Wallop-Breaux (W-B) funds to finance a tagging program for the state’s commercial striped bass fishery according to Stripers Forever, a conservation organization seeking gamefish status for the wild striped bass.

“[The] 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,” said Ken Hastings of Stripers Forever. “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 Maryland’s DNR simply did not mention the tagging project in its W-B grant applications.”

The Wallop-Breaux Act, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), mandates that funds raised via excise taxes on sporting equipment be used to pay for wildlife and sport fish restoration programs, including the enhancement of recreational fishing opportunities.

An investigation by Ken Hastings, a Maryland-based Stripers Forever board member, found that grant requests and year-end reports submitted to FWS by DNR from 1994 to 2011 did not include any mention of DNR’s commercial striper tagging program. The misuse of Wallop-Breaux funds and the cover-up was finally stopped last year by DNR’s current management.

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,” says Brad Burns, president of Stripers Forever. “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.

“The striped bass resource has declined dramatically all along the coast over the past six years,” Burns adds. “The commercial harvest – both legal and illegal – and overly liberal recreational bag limits both contribute to the problem. We need to make the wild striper a gamefish by stopping all commercial harvest. Doing so would allow striped bass to be managed sustainably for anglers from Maine to North Carolina, thus providing the greatest socio-economic value possible to the coastal states from the fishery.”

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