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Mike Jones - KEEPING UP

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Snap, crackle, text
Friday, April 05, 2019
As Seen On TV


Dollars and Sense
Lately, I’ve thought about fishing licenses. It began over a month ago when, in my rejuvenated interest for surf fishing, I found myself knee-deep at Newport Beach. The sand was nearly deserted and, quite frankly, my only reason for being there was to try out some new tackle.

At first, I didn’t see the two SUVs pull up behind me. They were not carrying lifeguards or game wardens, but uniformed officers of Newport Beach’s finest.


“Can we see your fishing license?” one policeman asked cordially.


To say I was dumbstruck would be an understatement. Admittedly, I have only been checked a handful of times in a career that should have at least quadrupled that number, but never has the interaction been with a city cop.


As I fumbled for my license, I couldn’t help but ask the question, “You guys can do this?”


Quite politely, he assured me they could. Turns out he was an animal control officer.


So, I asked the next question that seemed to be begging for an answer. “These animals, too?” I said, gesturing towards the water. Again, he answered in the affirmative.


Thinking I had somehow overlooked a whole new dynamic of the modern angling era, I asked around. From surf to salt to freshwater fishermen — including a game warden — I asked if I had missed something. They all offered one of two responses: Either they had never heard of it or it was rare. What this effort did do was remind me that my habit of buying a license was based on the resolutions I made every New Year’s Day: (1) Never do again what I did the night before. (2) Watch the Rose Bowl game. And (3) Get a new license.


It seemed pretty simple, that is, until the idea of having a license valid from the date of purchase rather than calendar-based became the fascination of legislators in various states across the country. On the surface, it looks like a no-brainer. Right there, I start worrying. When someone asks, “What fisherman wouldn’t be for this?” I’m the one raising both arms with upturned palms in the universal sign of “I’m not sure.”


Ask yourself this one: Why would anyone be against the state lottery? They asked us all that question back in 1984 and only those willing to risk the “anti-school” label had much to say. So where’s all that money? Why are teachers still striking and buying their own classroom supplies at Costco? Much of the rhetoric associated with this 365-day license proposal is disturbingly familiar in a legislative, happy talk kind of way. Modernize the system. Make fishing more accessible. Support communities reliant on outdoor activity and tourism. Provide more funds for critical state and conservation programs.


Perhaps it is all true, but I doubt it. If you want the licensing law to be changed for your personal convenience, then you probably won’t be disappointed. But if you’re expecting a torrent of cash to help the resource or even a significant uptick in license sales, I think you need to touch bases with reality. There are a lot of other economic and cultural reasons why license sales have flagged in recent years and none of them have anything to do with the price of a license. It’s the price of everything else. It’s changing demographics to gas prices to video games to parenting issues to real estate to whatever else you want to name that has moved people away from the outdoors. Yet, the authors and sponsors of Assembly Bill 1387 want to boil it down to the bogeyman of license prices.


To me, anyone who uses the price of a fishing license as a reason for not fishing has failed to assess the buy-in price of most any other outdoor activity. Granted, I’m a true believer but the cost of a license has never been anywhere on my list of deterrents. Yes, I’m aware that some residents and non-residents alike don’t share my degree of passion and view the prospect of buying a license in September distasteful. My less accepting reaction is that I will stay out of your bike lanes and avoid clogging your jogging paths because I choose not to invest in shoes or bikes or whatever else is necessary to sample your world. If you see me on a hiking path I will have a rod in hand and be heading for someplace where fish can be caught. For that, I apologize.


Sorry, access to the resource given to you by the price of a license doesn’t make allowances for your schedule. It’s there 365 days a year, 24/7, demanding our support as sportsmen. Perhaps the money for drop-in users will help feed that kitty. Perhaps not, and therein lies the dilemma. What are the unintended consequences, the things that no survey or marketing study has ever been effective in nailing down? Some might call them collateral damages. Will the shift to 365-day licenses create more administrative and enforcement costs and will the expected avalanche of additional money be directly funded to worthwhile programs? The sad truth is that unless we do it, we can’t and won’t know.


A heart-tugging refrain of the 365-day license song is that it will somehow increase participation. If this is the goal, why not provide a family discount whereby any parent, guardian or mentor when accompanied by a child under the age of 16, one with a fishing rod in their hand, can buy a license at a reduced price? Too complicated? Well then, let’s try to un­ravel this cultural knot and encourage parents unwilling to pay for a license to sit on shore and watch their minor child fish for free.


But, no matter how hard I try, I can’t completely oppose AB1387. You need a license and, as I discovered, you never know who is watching. For those who can’t seem to distance themselves from a cell phone, being able to prove your license purchase via a handy online app does make sense. After all, if you can board an airplane with an app, you should be able to display a fishing license.


Even so, when I listen to how wonderful and utopian something sounds, I remember what my parents and your parents told all of us. “When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”


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