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I will post it here, without comment at this time, while I work on MY response...

Sent: Monday, April 16, 2007 10:34 PM
Subject: Re: my actions on SB 1012


Enclosed are my comments on Senate 1012.
William T. Windley Jr., President
Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association

Conservation Wins Big in 2007

Senate has been a banner year for the legislative efforts of the MSSA. We were involved in four major initiatives and all four achieved success. First, the "Coastal Bays Dredging Act ", a piece of legislation that the Atlantic Coast Chapter has been working to pass for many years was passed. It was not easy, but the job got done, this bill prevents the extremely damaging practice of dredging the bottoms of the shallow coastal bays as a method of harvesting clams. Thousands upon thousands of acres of critical habitat will now be protected from being scraped clean of structure and vegetation by this harmful gear type. Thanks to efforts by Senator Roy Dyson, the Atlantic Coast Chapter Rich, Bill Miles and members of the Sportsman's Legislative Caucus, critical conservation was well served through this measure.

Another issue of great importance was the "Yellow Perch Bill". Declining numbers of yellow perch in our river systems has been of great concern to the majority of our members across the state. CCA took the lead on this issue this year as we have in others. I served on the first yellow perch task force over ten years ago. The Bill was heard in the senate on a Saturday morning and the halls were packed. Watermen from everywhere were on hand to plead their case. I was actually surprised that so many were so concerned until it was pointed out by one of the Senators that the ultimate goal of this bill was to shut down all commercial fishing for almost four months of the year. You can imagine the reaction. Fortunately, Rich Novotny and our friend Bill Miles were able to later settle things down and bring the bill back into perspective by banning perch netting during the spawning season. Our yellow perch go up stream in clusters in late January and February to spawn and it is very easy to scoop them up in large numbers effectively wiping out large segments of the population.

On that same Saturday, we all testified on the bond issue to provide $500,000 in matching funds to purchase all of the remaining rubble from the destruction of the old Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Sponsored by Senator John Astle Chairman of the Sportsman's Legislative Caucus, and longtime supporter of the MSSA, Delegate David Rudolph in the House, this extremely important reef initiative will be completed.

As a result of the efforts of Rich Novotny, and the support of Bill Miles and "The Caucus", we were able to defeat a bill that would have raised boat registrations by roughly four times. This bill would have hurt the sale of new and used boats as well as making it punitively expensive for those of us with limited means to own even a crabbing boat. In every case the administration testified on our behalf.

The final issue that we felt had to be faced, no matter how unpleasant the topic, was the fact that our DNR Fisheries Department, the people who make the decisions that will be impacting fisheries for many years to come, are desperately understaffed and seriously under funded.

Maryland's Department of Natural Resources has not climbed out of the special fund dependence hole created by the economic recession of the early 1990's...meaning, the Executive and Legislative branches of Maryland State Government back then directed State agencies to increase their reliance on special funds -- via user group fees -- instead of general funds. This policy-decision was required in order for Maryland to comply with the constitutional requirement for an annual balanced budget where general funds were needed in other areas, like health, education and public safety.

Today, DNR is still heavily dependent on special funds rather than general funds because of all the user groups that benefit from our coveted natural resources...there are user group exceptions that aren't burdened with fees, but, that is another argument for another time.

Thus the origin of Senate Bill 1012. This bill was proposed by the recreational fishermen of The Maryland Aquatic Resources Coalition, the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association, the Maryland Sportsman's Legislative Council, and sponsored by the Senate Co-Chair of the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus, Senator John Astle. Leaders of other major conservation and recreational fishing organizations had a key role writing the bill. From the beginning 1012 has been an initiative advanced solely by the recreational fishing community to help mitigate DNR's prevailing financial difficulties -- with respect to recreational fisheries only -- while encouraging increased general fund support from the Governor and General Assembly. Here are the specifics:

Our leadership was attracted by the unprecedented strong commitment on the part of then Mayor O'Malley to respect, support, and further the recognition of the contribution made by recreational fishing. During the campaign, we as members of MSSA/RFA MD addressed several questions to the aspiring Gubernatorial Candidates. In my mind the most important of those questions centered around the economic contributions by recreational fishing to the State's economy, the fact that we are a great benefit to the state and not a burden. Included below are quotes from both the question and now Governor O'Malley's response.

In the past 3 years the state has reduced it's funding of the Department of Natural Resources by approximately $2.5 Million. Recreational fishing and boating contribute nearly $3 Billion dollars to Maryland's economy every year, and thousands of jobs and businesses depend on these industries for their support, but the number of fishing licenses issued continues to fall every year. How would you go about addressing increased investment in fishery management and a specific focus on enhancing recreational fishing opportunities in population centers? If the recreational fishermen of Maryland were willing to support a license fee increase for these purposes, would your budget match the fee increase in general fund revenue? How would you commit to this investment over the next four years?

When asked, now Governor O'Malley responded:

"Anglers and hunters have a long history of funding conservation work through license purchases. Those license dollars are matched by federal funds derived from excise taxes on sporting equipment and, to a lesser degree in recent years, state General Fund dollars. We know that the previous administration's reported "surplus" was realized at least in part on the backs of average citizens through $3 billion in increased fees of all sorts. We also know that it has resulted in choking off some of our important agency functions, like fisheries management. We also know that it is likely not to yield the extra money for the next governor that we hear about in Ehrlich campaign ads. So I cannot make an iron clad promise on new funding immediately. But I believe this - if the licensed anglers of this state volunteer additional funding through a license fee increase, then that money should be matched by the State. Therefore I would pledge to work with you to develop and pass legislation to put any increased license funds in a special fund, which would be appropriated only for fisheries management, conservation and restoration activities, and only in years when it could be matched at least one for one by new General fund appropriations to the fisheries agency. In years when General Funds were not available, then funds would sit and collect interest for future investment in fisheries conservation."

This is a strong commitment, in fact the strongest we have ever seen! We decided that it was imperative for us as anglers to seize this opportunity to address sweeping fisheries management reform. So Senate Bill 1012 was drafted to address the very core of the way we manage fisheries and help provide some of the funding needed change things in Maryland.

Senate 1012 includes many landmark provisions including:

New funds will be limited in use to the fisheries management fund as described in the bill, and can be used in no other way.

An independent peer review panel will be created to analyze all existing fisheries management plans and identify species which need to have such a plan.

Plans will be rewritten to meet the panels criteria based on best available science.

Fisheries shall be managed in a way that brings the most benefit to the greatest number of people in Maryland.

A Task force will be created of Maryland fishermen, only one of whom is commercial, to monitor the compliance of the Department in rewriting the plans and to provide oversight on the use of the new funds.

The Sport Fisheries Advisory Commission shall have an increased role in management decisions.

Originally, the bill provided that the Governor "must" match all new monies with a 50% match. Unfortunately, when our legislation came before the Senate Committee, it met with one problem. The Senate had vowed that until new sources of revenue had been found, or tax reform addressed, no new revenue negative bills would be passed. Therefore in a last minute effort to keep this much needed bill alive, the committee agreed to amend it to say that the Governor "may " match the fund as opposed to "will" match the fund.

Initially, I was disappointed, however after talking to several people about this situation, I was convinced that the match was not, as many claimed, removed from the bill but was instead made an option. After talking to the Governor's staff both then and since the bill passed, I remain convinced that the Governor intends to stand by his commitment. Remember, this is a new Governor, and new Secretary of Natural Resources and a new Deputy Secretary. Both Secretary John Griffin and Deputy Eric Schwaab are good friends to recreational fishing with whom we have had very successful dealings in the past. Coupled with the Governors commitment to funding and his strong support for all of our legislative initiatives, I feel that a working environment has been created in Maryland that will make us a national model in fisheries management.

Bill Windley

Proud Member of the MSSA
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