Additional funding for programs of the Division of Fish and Wildlife
(DFW) already is on the way in the form of an increased schedule of fees
for hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses, but the wildlife agency may
derive an extra $1.2 million per year if free fishing for senior
citizens is abolished.
For a number of years residents 65 years old or older and those less
than 16 have been permitted to fish without a license. This benevolence
does not apply to hunting or trapping.
Now a bill in the Indiana General Assembly, which reconvenes on January
7, would (if adopted) eliminate this free fishing privilege for those 65
years old and older. Those younger than 16 still would have the free fishing
privilege, according to terms of the upcoming legislation.
That conservationists of the state would have the audacity to take free-fishing
privileges away from the old folks will not sit well with some Hoosiers,
but before they start blasting the proposal, the concept, a closer look
at the situation is in order.
In the first place, as a famed industrialist once said, "there is no
such thing as a free lunch." If there is no charge for the pickled egg,
cheese and crackers, somewhere along the line the fee will be escalated
on some other item . . . maybe the suds.
And so it goes with fisheries management programs. We get what we pay
Department of Natural Resources officials were asked last summer to
come up with some figures on how much funding the DFW was losing because
of the free-fishing privilege for those 65 years old, or older. It was
not their idea.
It was estimated that there were 144,537 potential anglers of the senior
contingent. At that time the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, administrator
of federal sport fish restoration funds, was apportioning to the states
$5.81 for each license sold. This translates into the possibility that
our DFW was losing as much as $839,760 per year because seniors were not
required to purchase a license.
If the proposed legislation becomes law, seniors would be required to
purchase a fishing license for $2.75. This, if the calculations of DNR
personnel were correct, would bring $397,479 into the coffers of the DFW
each year and Indiana law requires that this funding be used for conservation
programs (although sticky-fingered politicians have been known to view
the pot through lustful eyes).
Generally, though, these dedicated funds are safe, it seems.
In any event, if the apportionment of federal funds remains constant
at $5.81 per fishing license sold, our DFW would count a windfall of some
$839,760 per year. Add the aforementioned $397,479 which the sale of a
seniors fishing license could bring in, and you have an estimated grand
total of $1,237,239 for projects that could make fishing better for everyone,
including the seniors.
There is, of course, another angle to this whole affair.
Nobody seems to know exactly when the free fishing privilege for seniors
was enacted by the legislature, but the concept--similar to the free veterans
free hunting/fishing permit after World War II --was intended as a gift
from the state of Indiana. Unfortunately it has cost one agency of the
state dearly in federal funding over the years. It is a case of the state
giving away something it does not own.
The veterans’ free hunting-fishing license was abolished by the legislature
in the 1950s. Last year the lawmakers adopted a law that gives veterans
with service-connected disabilities the option of buying hunting and/or
fishing licenses for $2.75. This makes the DFW eligible for its fair
share of federal funding which is used to make outdoorsing better for all