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New stamp for fishing has debate
By Andrew LePage -- Bee Staff Writer - (Published December 31, 2003)


Thousands of Sacramento-area anglers will need to buy a new $5 stamp next year that's designed to raise millions to improve sportfishing in San Francisco Bay, the Delta and connecting rivers.

The new charge comes on top of a $2 increase in the price of an annual resident fishing license, which goes up to $31.25 on Thursday.

No decisions have been made on exactly how to use the estimated $2 million raised annually from the new "Bay-Delta Sport Fishing Enhancement Stamp." Ideas being considered include restoring the Sacramento perch population in the Delta and the white sea bass in San Francisco Bay and buying more shoreline access for anglers.

Northern California's fishing community is greeting the new stamp with a mixture of enthusiasm and skepticism.

Some anglers don't mind paying an extra $5 to fish for any species in the huge area encompassing San Francisco Bay, the Delta and long stretches of the San Joaquin river,, Sacramento river,and American rivers and their tributaries.

"It's worth the price, and the added cost won't deter me from buying a license," said Manuel Lopez, 63, a Sacramento retiree who enjoys fishing the American River. He just spent $43.30 -- including the 5 percent vendor handling fee -- to buy his 2004 annual license, Bay-Delta stamp and steelhead "report card."

"I still think it's a bargain -- just think of what a ticket to a Kings game costs," Lopez said.

Many anglers like the new stamp's goal: funding the management of fisheries based on the entire Bay-Delta-rivers ecosystem instead of managing one species at a time. In contrast, money raised by the $3.50 striped bass stamp -- sold intermittently since 1981 and discontinued as of this year -- targeted that one species.

"If the concept is to try to benefit all of the life in those waterways, then I think it's a good idea, and the cost is inconsequential," said Rocky Schotsal, a lifelong local angler.

But some question how the Department of Fish and Game could have known how much to charge for the new stamp when it didn't -- and still doesn't -- know exactly what it will do with the money. And they wonder whether the new funds will augment existing revenue committed to the Bay-Delta region -- the goal of the legislation that created the stamp -- or simply allow the department to reapportion dwindling resources.

"To me, they just didn't have the guts to say, '$37 for a basic (annual) license,' " said John Hayes, owner of Romeo's Bait and Tackle in Freeport. "Is the idea to price everyone out of the market so there's no fishing and nothing left to manage? They're well on their way if that's the goal."

Fish and Game officials insist all the money raised by the new stamp will be used to enhance sportfishing in the Bay-Delta-rivers system. They say the new stamp guarantees a minimum level of funding for that specific area even if the department suffers more budget cuts.

Various organizations, including United Anglers of California and the Northern California Federation of Fly Fishers, offered input for the creation of the Bay-Delta stamp, noted Perry Herrgesell, chief of the department's Central Valley Bay Delta Branch.

"In deliberations, some were willing to have it at more than $5, and they recognized that our department is hurting financially, and that this is a way they can help us keep some staff around to do some things they benefit from," Herrgesell said.

But Jack Chapman, 57, a local angler for more than 50 years, said he doesn't buy the department's arguments, based on how it has handled striped bass stamp funds. He alleged that money from the dedicated fund has been used improperly in recent years to buy patrol boats and warden overtime -- uses he insisted don't solely benefit striped bass.

Chapman, who heads the California Striped Bass Association's Sacramento chapter, said these expenses should be covered by the department's general revenues.

"It's a question of trust," Chapman said. "They have built up a lot of mistrust in the angling community because of their actions in the past."

Heather McIntire, an environmental scientist with the department's Bay-Delta branch, said that while the two patrol boats and warden overtime might not be totally dedicated to stripers, most or all of the work will benefit that fishery. For instance, some of the warden's work might relate to monitoring water quality or identifying pollution sources, which benefits all fish, including stripers, she said.

Department officials say they had to estimate what to charge for the new Bay-Delta stamp based on past experience and general ideas about what kinds of projects they want to fund. Before spending any money, they'll hear recommendations from a nine-member advisory committee of anglers and angling association members.

Fish and Game officials say they hope to use stamp proceeds on projects such as purchasing more fishing access along the Bay, Delta and associated rivers. They also hope to use stamp funds for more enforcement of fishing regulations, fisheries monitoring and habitat improvement.

"There's going to be a lot of good work (done with the Bay-Delta stamp proceeds)," said Bob Strickland, president of United Anglers of California, based in San Jose. "We're going to make sure we get some bang for our buck."

Strickland said one of his group's recommendations will be to use stamp funds to create habitat for game fish fry and to raise white sea bass to be stocked in San Francisco Bay.

Meanwhile, about $4.4 million remains in the dedicated striped bass stamp fund, which received about $1 million this year from the sale of about 270,000 stamps. Fish and Game officials say money will be used for striped bass programs and won't be combined with funds from the new Bay-Delta stamp.

Department officials don't anticipate using the money to stock striped bass in the Bay or Delta. They halted their stocking program about two years ago after determining the adult striped bass population had reached a critical threshold. Federal authorities set a limit based on the threat that stripers, a non-native species introduced more than a century ago, pose to Delta smelt and winter-and spring-run chinook salmon, which are protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act.




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