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Tom Patton: Gone Fishin’

patton-columnI guess you could call it a relax tax.

I follow Paul Flemming on Twitter as a good source for quick information about the State Legislature. Flemming’s bio indicates he’s the State Editor for Ganette’s Florida Newspapers. Friday, he linked to an item on tallahassee.com concerning fishing licenses:

The federal government is set to institute a saltwater fishing fee for those states that don’t have their own. Florida, for 20 years, has not required a license to fish from the shore or piers. In the bill passed this week, which Governor Crist is likely to sign, Floridians will have to buy a $15.50 license to fish from the saltwater shoreline.

Now, one way or the other, beach casters (not broadcasters at the beach) are going to have to buy some kind of license to continue to enjoy their hobby, and I suppose a state license is less unpalatable than a federal tag. The license is expected to bring a billion dollars to the state after it goes into effect in January.

Those of us who enjoy fishing are accustomed to paying for a license. I buy one every year for the privilege of fishing from my boat, or someone else’s, on the ocean, the ICW, or the St. Johns River. I’m hoping, if this is inevitable, that the shore license will be folded into the combination salt and fresh water license with only a small increase in the fee, rather than the full $15.50.

But what is troublesome is that, again, the legislature has singled out particular segment of the population as a revenue source. I recall 15 or so years ago when the Federal government levied a boat tax based on the length of your vessel because it was assumed that anyone who owned a boat was “rich” and could afford the federal registration. They weren’t spending time at MY marina. I can see registering a boat like you do a car at the state level, but the federal stamp was simply a revenue stream. We were told it was dedicated for waterways and such, but we all know how sacrosanct those things are. Eventually, through organizations like Boat U.S., the boating community managed to get the tax repealed, and our particular hobby cost us just a little bit less.

Shore and pier fishermen, though, may not have such a lobby. No matter the day, and pretty much no matter the weather, when I go to the beach I see someone standing in the surf with a fishing pole, a bucket of bait, and a cooler. These may not be the people like me who are fortunate enough to have access to a boat. They’ve made sometimes a very modest investment in a rod and reel, and just want to pass the time at the beach. Sometimes they’ll take what they catch home for dinner, sometimes not.

Think, too, about how in these economic times someone might want to find an inexpensive way to spend time with their kids. I know lots of dads who have spent a lot of time fishing with their kids, and the kids are usually better for it. But then, on top of a second and maybe third set of tackle, there’s an additional fee just for the privilege of walking down to the beach to fish. How many will it deter? There’s no way to know. Maybe only a few, but are those the few who need to spend the most time with their kids?

I suppose my point is that the people fishing at the beach use no more resources than someone just relaxing on the beach, or surfing. I don’t want a surfing license, either, even though I don’t surf, and don’t think anyone would ever suggest a ‘tanning tax’, though melanoma is a serious health risk. You can just hear the jokes about a ‘license to fry’. But fishermen and hunters are simply conditioned to have a license to enjoy their particular hobby, so I guess it seemed like an easy thing for the federal government to just impose its will on shore fishermen, and the state legislature decided if the money was going to be spent anyway, they should get it rather than the feds. I guess that’s good logic, and a little bit easier to swallow.

Still, the legislature can’t bring its self to lift sales tax exemptions for luxury sky boxes and ostrich feed.

And (maybe as a bit of an aside) it’s interesting to me that they’ll require a license to fish, from a boat and now from the shore, but seem to have very little interest requiring one for the “Captains” who run their boats sometimes like Keystone Kops out to where the fish are biting … and who’s only qualification to operate a boat is enough money to buy it and fill it up with gas.

Authors Note: A version of this article originally appeared in my personal blog “Life’s a Beach” May 1st.

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