Many anglers complain about buying a fishing license. Filling out the form is a hassle, shelling out money is excessive and the consequences are too harsh. But a deeper look into the fishing tax, reveals a value greater than a few bucks and a couple minutes.

For example, in Ohio around the mid-1930s, a fishing license was optional. When the state began a focused stocking program, they shifted from voluntary to mandatory licenses.

In that time, the number of licenses jumped from 100,000 to 600,000. License programs have become popular to pay for access and conservation programs that benefit anglers. Understanding how the money is used will make buying a fishing license less painful.

Fishing licenses and conservation are linked. Licenses fund conservation efforts, stocking programs and research on native species.

Fishing license money also helps pay for access, amenities and law enforcement. Anglers, scientists, non-profits, citizens, localities and other interested parties can lobby the state’s license fund committee for money to support angler-friendly programs.

For many years, the plan worked well. But recently, license sales across the country have dropped.

A man with a notepad in the foreground faces an angler in the background.
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According to Curtis Wagner, a fisheries management supervisor for Ohio, there has been a significant downtrend since the late 1980s. “We were selling 1.1 million licenses per year. But we’ve had a drop of 600,000 residential fishing licenses.”

There are various reasons for the drop, Wagner says. He considers one of the keys to be the general downtrend in the number of Ohioans who go fishing, hunting, and trapping. However, Wagner and others are working on creative new ways to market licenses and hopefully draw in more support.

“Society is changing. In the past four decades, we’ve lost a lot of fishing licenses.” However, he says many people are interested in funding conservation, land and water acquisitions, as well as water access. Maybe birdwatchers, paddlers and other users would be willing to buy a license. “Polls and data show many people care about these things even if they are not fishing and hunting,” Wagner points out.

To increase sales, Ohio is trying new ideas such as offering multi-year licenses and cost increases.

If license sales fall, then funding for important programs will also fall. According to a recent bill in the Ohio legislature, “Licenses improve Ohio’s state fisheries hatcheries and fishing access; protect and improve access to fishing, hunting and trapping land; improve shooting ranges; and ensure a state wildlife officer in each county and on Lake Erie.” Many people, not just anglers and hunters, care about these resources.

Another important benefit of purchasing a fishing license is tracking the number of anglers and mapping trends in demographics and participation. Each person who purchases a license fills out a form that helps managers understand the resource’s users.

Across the country, government officials are working to find new ways to do more with less. So why do you need a fishing license? Purchasing a fishing license plays an important role in conservation projects that many anglers, hunters, and outdoor enthusiasts appreciate. Andrew Pegman

This article was first published in Kayak Angler Issue 43. Subscribe to Kayak Angler’s print and digital editions here, or browse the archives here.

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