Sport Fish Restoration (SFR), which involves a cooperation between state and federal government, the fishing and boating industries, and anglers and boaters, has been an ambitious and successful endeavor. A variety of SFR projects touch our lives on a daily basis; children and adults learn how to fish and keep the aquatic environment healthy.

Fishing piers are built. Boating access facilities are constructed. Prime fishing waters are preserved and fisheries research projects are conducted to provide data to maintain healthy fish populations.

Originally passed in 1950 and strongly supported by anglers throughout the nation, the Sport Fish Restoration Act (Dingell - Johnson Act) placed a 10% excise tax on fishing rods, reels, lures, fishing line, and related fishing equipment.  In 1984 Congress passed the Wallop Breaux amendments to the Act, also widely supported by resource users, which included import duties on yachts and a motorboat fuel tax on gasoline. 

As a result of important partnerships formed during the 1984 amendments, each state now spends at least 15% of SFR monies on boating access and up to 10% on aquatic resource education and fisheries outreach activities. Monies are distributed depending upon the size of the state and the number of fishing licenses sold with no state receiving more than 5.0% or less than 1.0%. The program provides a valuable investment in the maintenance and enhancement of our natural resources and the tremendous economic benefits they generate for the future.

The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division receives no General Fund money for fisheries nor wildlife management.  Funds from fishing and hunting license sales are used to match federal Wallop Breaux funds.

Restoration of Wildlife Extends to Sport Fishing
The Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Program has had a major impact on sport fishing nationwide. Since 1950, state fish and wildlife agencies have received more than $2.6 billion under the Program. These funds have helped to build or reconstruct more than 1,200 fishing or boating access sites, purchase over 260,000 acres for boating, fishing and fish production, and fund research and inventory projects resulting in better ways to manage fish populations. In addition, funding is used to educate children and adults about fish and their habitats. The purchase of fishing equipment and motor boat fuels by fishing and boating enthusiasts supports sport fish recreation.

However, the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act followed a lengthy and rather arduous legislative process before it was eventually enacted in 1950 under the co-sponsorship of Congressman John Dingell, Sr. (MI) and Senator Edwin Johnson (CO).

The Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Program is the result of four major Congressional actions.

These are:

  • Enactment of the Sport Fish Restoration Program (Dingell-Johnson Act) in 1950;
  • Enactment in 1984 of the Wallop-Breaux Amendment to the Sport Fish Restoration Program;
  • Inclusion of wetlands conservation provisions contained in 1990 amendments to the Act;
  • Creation of a boat-related waste pump-out facilities program through amendments in 1992.

The 1998 reauthorization of Wallop-Breaux Amendment through the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century provides stable funding for boating safety programs and brings other improvements to the overall program.


Early Efforts to Support Sport Fishery Programs

The process began in May of 1939, when Congressman Frank H. Buck (CA) introduced legislation to impose a 10 percent manufacturers" excise tax on certain equipment for recreational fishing. The monies collected under the authority of the proposed legislation were to be returned to the states to help fund sport fishery programs. Congressman Buck's bill was modeled after the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act which passed in 1937 and earmarked taxes collected on specific hunting equipment for state wildlife programs. The revenue from the taxes collected under Congressman Buck's bill was intended to be passed on to the states on a formula basis similar to one established in the Wildlife Restoration Program. However, Congressman Buck's bill received little support and never progressed past consideration by the House Ways and Means Committee.

Two years later, in February 1941, Congressman Buck introduced a similar bill in the House of Representatives. Soon after the bill was introduced, the U.S. entered World War II and all action on the bill ceased. However, a bill similar to Congressman Buck's was passed in October 1941. The law imposed a 10 percent excise tax on rods, reels, creels, and artificial lures. The monies collected by the tax were deposited in the General Fund of the U.S. Treasury and used to aid in financing the war effort. Although World War II ended in 1945, the excise tax continued to be collected and deposited into the General Fund.

After the war ended, Congressman Buck resumed his efforts and reintroduced his bill (the precursor to the Sport Fish Restoration Act) into the House in July 1946. However, further action on it ceased over objections from commercial fishing interests and fishing tackle manufacturers.


Sport Fish Restoration Becomes Law
In 1947, Congressman John Dingell, Sr. (MI) adopted the cause, and introduced his version of the bill into the 80th Congress. Although Congressman Dingell streamlined the bill to address the concerns that commercial fishing interests and fishing tackle manufacturers voiced earlier, it failed to be enacted into law. By this time, sport anglers rallied together and growing support for sport fishing legislation gained momentum. Congressman Dingell reintroduced his bill early in the 81st Congress. On August 1, 1949, Senator Edwin Johnson (CO) introduced an identical bill into the Senate. The bills quickly passed both houses of Congress. However, President Harry S. Truman vetoed the legislation on October 12, 1949.

On January 3, 1950, Congressman Dingell and Senator Johnson introduced a rewritten version of the bill into the 2nd session of the 81st Congress. This time, President Truman signed the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act into law (Public Law 81-681) on August 9, 1950. The excise taxes that had been collected on fishing tackle and equipment were now earmarked and put into a special account for apportionment to the states for sport fish restoration programs, effective July 1, 1951. The Act also provided a mechanism to prevent diversions of state fishing license fees to uses other than to support sport fishing.

The Sport Fish Restoration Act became a cooperative effort between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state fish and wildlife agencies to invest anglers' tax dollars in state sport fishing development projects.

A New Trust Fund for Sport Fish Restoration
By the late l970s, the growing deficiency of available funds for fisheries work under the Sport Fish Restoration Program became apparent. At the same time, larger amounts of funds were becoming available for wildlife preservation from the Wildlife Restoration Program - about $86 million for wildlife contrasted to about $35 million for sport fish.

In August 1979, Senator Jennings Randolph (WV) introduced legislation to expand the Sport Fish Restoration Program by lengthening the list of taxed fishing tackle items. The legislation proposed a three percent manufacturers' excise tax on certain boats, outboard motors, and boat trailers. Congressman John Breaux (LA) introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives in December 1979. However, opposition from boating interests proved to be the legislation's downfall. The boating industry opposed the tax increase, citing a downturn in business brought about by increased interest rates and the energy crisis of the late 1970s.

A breakthrough came in 1982 with a compromise proposal developed by the Sport Fishing Institute. The essential elements of the compromise were to delete the controversial three percent excise tax on boats, outboard motors, and boat trailers from the legislation. In its place, monies collected from motor boat fuel tax under the provisions of the Recreational Boating Safety and Facilities Improvement Act of 1980 were designated to be applied to sport fishing programs. The second part of the compromise was to incorporate the duties collected on imported fishing tackle. This compromise fostered a strong coalition of boating and fishing interest groups which later became the American League of Anglers and Boaters (ALAB).

In July of 1984, under the leadership of Senator Malcolm Wallop (WY) and Congressman John Breaux, an amendment to the 1950 Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act eventually passed. In recognition for their unrelenting efforts, the amendment took on the sponsors' names and became the Wallop-Breaux Amendment. The major element of the amendment established a new trust fund, named the Aquatic Resources Trust Fund, popularly referred to as the Wallop-Breaux Trust Fund. The fund is divided into two accounts: 1) the Boat Safety Account; and 2) the Sport Fish Restoration Account. The Wallop-Breaux Amendment raised revenues from an expansion of the base tax to include essentially all items of fishing tackle, as well as the new motorboat fuel taxes and import duties on fishing tackle and boats.

The Impact of the 1984 Wallop-Breaux Amendment
The Wallop-Breaux Amendment added several new provisions that stipulate the types of projects which states may undertake through the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Program. The new provisions included: 1) program funding; 2) boating access; 3) aquatic resources education; and 4) equal expenditures between freshwater and saltwater projects.

The most important feature was the increase in available Program funds. During the final year of funding under the original law (1985), $38 million was available to the Sport Fish Restoration Program. During the first year of the Program under Wallop-Breaux (1986), funding increased to $122 million, over a three-fold increase.

Each state was mandated to spend at least 10 percent of its annual share on development and maintenance of boating access facilities. The broad range of access facilities eligible for funding includes boat ramps and lifts, docking and marina facilities, breakwaters, fish cleaning stations, restrooms, and parking areas.

Up to 10 percent of a state's annual apportionment may be used to fund aquatic resources education programs. Subjects covered under this provision include aquatic ecology, aquatic resources management, aquatic safety, conservation ethics, public information, and fishing.

Marine coastal states and territories must equitably divide expenditures of Program monies between freshwater and saltwater activities based on the respective estimated number of resident freshwater anglers versus the estimated number of saltwater anglers as determined by the most recent USFWS Hunting and Fishing Survey. 

1988 Reauthorization of the Wallop-Breaux Amendment
Sport Fish Restoration legislation was amended in more modest ways in 1988, 1990, and again in 1992. Provisions of the 1984 Wallop-Breaux Amendment had Alabama biologists collect fish with electricity.required spending from the Boat Safety Account to undergo reauthorization after three years of enactment. Unlike the Sport Fish Restoration Account, which is administered by the USFWS, the Boat Safety Account is administered by the U.S. Coast Guard. The monies transferred to this account are divided between the Coast Guard and the states. The states' share is used on a matching basis for boating safety programs.

The reauthorization bill, H.R. 3918, was passed and became law (P.L.100-448) in September 1988. The new law increased the spending authorization for the Boat Safety Account and altered several administrative procedures of the Program.

Another significant change in the Sport Fish Restoration Act occurred with reauthorization in 1988. Under P.L.100-448, all appropriations going to coastal states were to be divided equally between freshwater and saltwater projects. Each coastal state was to allocate amounts in the same proportion as the estimated number of resident marine anglers and the estimated number of resident freshwater anglers in that state.

Further, the states were permitted to use contribution of funds, real property, materials, and services on approved projects in lieu of the requirement for states to match 25 percent of the cost of such project. The state's share is considered to be paid in an amount equal to the fair market value of any contribution.

In order to verify the actual percentage of fuel taxes collected each year attributable to recreational motorboat usage, P.L.100-448 authorized the Secretary of Transportation and the Secretary of the Interior to jointly conduct a survey of: 1) the number, size and primary uses of recreational vessels operating on the waters of the U.S.; and 2) the amount of types of fuel used by those vessels.

1990 Amendments to the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act
During the last days of the 10lst Congress, amendments were passed that led to a significant increase in deposits to the Sport Fish Restoration Account. The 1990 federal budget reconciliation process allowed for an increase in Federal fuel excise taxes to be deposited to the Highway Trust Fund, of which 1.08 percent was to accrue to the Aquatic Resources Trust Fund. Also mandated was the creation and funding of a new wetlands restoration effort within the overall Wallop-Breaux Program.

Concurrently, in related legislative action, Federal fuel tax receipts attributable to small gasoline engines were designated for deposit to the Sport Fish Restoration Account.

National Wetlands Planning Protection and Restoration Program
A new wetlands program created by the legislation receives from the Sport Fish Restoration Account an amount equal to 18 percent of the total of all funds deposited into the Account. The 18 percent figure approximates an amount equal to the anticipated receipts from the new small engine gas tax. The Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Restoration Program receives 70 percent of total wetlands funding. A Federal task force was created to prioritize Louisiana coastal wetlands restoration projects, and to develop a long-term plan for Louisiana. The goal was to achieve no net loss of wetlands in Louisiana by regulating development activities.

The wetlands program received an annual allocation of a percentage of designated funds for support of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, to be provided to the Secretary of the Interior to undertake projects in coastal states.

A new National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grants Program was created, to be administered by the Director of the USFWS, to provide grants to coastal states (including Great Lakes states) for coastal wetlands conservation programs. The new amendment also required the USFWS to update wetlands maps and to conduct an analysis of wetlands trends in the state of Texas.

1992 Amendments to the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act
On November 4, 1992, President George Bush signed into law legislation containing a number of environmental provisions, one of which was entitled the Clean Vessel Act. The Clean Vessel Act included several modest changes to the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration legislation. Among the changes were new distribution formulas to equitably distribute additional boat-generated fuel taxes. The essential elements of this amendment created a new merit-driven, cost-shared program making money available for construction, maintenance, and operation of facilities to handle sewage from boats equipped with pumping devices An identical amount of spending authority was provided to enhance the state boat safety grants programs. These monies complement the Boat Safety Account appropriations for the same purpose.

1998 Reauthorization of the Wallop-Breaux Amendment
The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century - known as TEA 21 - provides stable funding for boating safety programs and brings other improvements to the overall Wallop-Breaux program including increased funds for Sport Fish Restoration Program and the Coastal Wetlands Act.

For an 83 page booklet about Sport Fish Restoration projects, contact Doug Darr.


Some information contained herein courtesy of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.