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Editorial: Fishing License Reform

Editorial: Will 2020 be the year for fishing and hunting license reform?

Marko Mlikotin/Speciala to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Jan 21, 2020

The following is a guest editorial provided by Marko Mlikotin, Executive Director, California Sportfishing League,

Recreational fishing in California generates over $4.6 billion in economic activity each year. For this reason, an impressive coalition of state and national organizations representing anglers, hunters, boaters and the outdoor tourism industry continues to champion the need for real and meaningful fishing license reform.

The most significant news of 2019 was the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (DFW) recognition that its fishing and hunting licenses programs were failing and with this come consequences. Sales have been declining for decades, threatening DFW’s funding for critical conservation and fishery programs.

Now, as a new year begins, it’s time for DFW to show some real leadership by fulfilling its pledge to reform the department’s costly and antiquated licensing program. Any day now, DFW will be releasing a final R3 report (Recruitment, Retention, Reactivation), which is part of a national movement to develop policies aimed at reversing declining fishing and hunting participation rates. The department’s recommendations can then be amended into Assemblymember Jim Wood’s (D-Santa Rosa) 365-day fishing license bill, AB 1387, legislation that passed the State Assembly unanimously and rests in the State Senate today.

As an association that champions the interests of anglers in our state capitol, the California Sportfishing League (CSL) has and will continue to underscore the need for reform. The fact that fishing licenses sales have declined over 55 percent since 1980 is indisputable. The major contributors to declining sales continue to be a calendar-based fishing license that is not valid a full 12 months from the date of purchase and the high cost of fishing.

Long ago, Californians soured on the notion of purchasing a calendar-based fishing license that expires on Dec. 31 of every year, no matter when purchased. As a consequence, sales plummet during the late spring and early summer months when Californians and tourists are outdoors in record numbers — when sales should be exploding, but they are not. Remarkably, anglers have not shifted their preference from long-term to short-term licenses. Poor offerings and high prices reveal that far too many have simply just abandoned fishing altogether.

In the 1980s, annual fishing licenses cost a mere $5. Now, at $56.68 (fresh and saltwater, plus ocean enhancement), California has the distinction of being the costliest state in the country to fish, as the state participation rate has fallen to the lowest (per capita) in the country. The primary reason why both hunting and fishing are so costly is that licenses are not determined by any reasoned market analysis, but rather by some archaic cost of living formula known as a “consumer price deflator.” The name itself is a misnomer since there is no record of prices ever being “deflated.”

No other state uses this methodology, and no one can say how it came to be in the first place. However, the consequences of autopilot fee increases are declining participation rates and diminishing economic benefits for communities dependent on outdoor tourism for jobs. No one benefits, not even DFW. License fees once supported 40 percent of the department’s budget. Today, it is estimated to be 20 percent.

To add insult to injury, state law requires the California State Legislature and the California Fish and Game Commission to review licensing fees every 5 years, presumably to prevent runaway price increases. Unfortunately, a public record request submitted by CSL reveals that no such audit has ever taken place.

It is for this reason, and many others, that there are growing calls to abolish the so-called consumer price deflator and for California to follow the lead of reform minded states that have a proven record of restructuring their licensing programs to include a 365-day fishing license, increased offerings and even reducing fees without placing their wildlife budgets at risk.

Such measures are exactly what a group of hunting and fishing stakeholders have advised DFW to do and we are guardedly optimistic that the Director will listen. If so, this will be revealed in DFW’s R3 Plan. Once this occurs, the only question remaining is will DFW have the political will to put their plan to work? We hope so. The future of outdoor recreation depends on it.

Marko Mlikotin, Executive Director, California Sportfishing League,

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Western Outdoor News welcomes guest editorials. Guest editorials do not necessarily reflect the views of Western Outdoors Publications. If you are interested in submitting a guest editorial, please e-mail

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