Why do you need a license to fish?

Protecting Fish Populations

Fishing regulations are created to protect fish populations, which ensures good fishing for this guy.
Fishing regulations are created to protect fish populations, which ensures good fishing for this guy.
Tyler Stableford/Getty Images

It may seem counterintuitive, but issuing licenses to fish has actually proven to protec­t fish populations (the same holds true with hunting). This protection forms a circle that begins when an angler pays a licensing fee, which ultimately benefits him or her in the form of plentiful fishing.

When states institute fishing regulations, they generally apply limits to the species and amount any given fisherman can catch and keep in a day. These limits are included in information accompanying fishing licenses, so people who fish become educated to catch limits. What's more, conscientious anglers can report poachers -- anyone who hunts or fishes outside of regulations and standards -- if they're noticed with heavier hauls than allowed by law.

Licenses also give state and federal wildlife officials the opportunity to identify poachers. By allowing officials to spot-check anglers for valid fishing licenses, wildlife departments create the fear of being caught fishing illegally. Since state departments of natural resources generally offer licenses at reasonable fees -- usually between $10 and $40 -- but levy hefty fines from hundreds to thousands of dollars for people who violate regulations, it makes sense for most people to follow the rules.

Although some sport anglers might think so, the rules aren't arbitrary. Wildlife and natural resources departments set size and number limits and schedule fishing seasons based on data produced by research funded by fishing license fees [source: Take Me Fishing]. While much of the fees from licenses go to support the budgets of state wildlife departments, it also goes to fund wildlife research. Understanding how fish mating patterns, migration and other behaviors helps biologists (or in the case of fish, ichthyologists) better understand how to help better protect those species. With populations maintained, good fishing is ensured for both present and future generations of anglers.

One example of conservation through research funded by fishing license fees came in 2007 in Washington. The state's coastal rockfish populations were dwindling and in response, its Department of Fish and Wildlife passed an extra 50-cent charge for fishing licenses. The added charge generated $200,000 dedicated exclusively to studying rockfish -- which are notoriously hard to examine because of their rough underwater habitat. Officials hope to use their findings to avert future restrictions on rockfish angling [source: WDFW].

The revenue generated from fishing license fees also go to fund other management operations. Most states maintain protected fisheries -- fish breeding grounds -- to help stabilize fish populations. These programs also include stocking public lakes, which further ensures plentiful fishing for anglers.

Purchasing fishing accessories also goes to help conservation efforts that ultimately ensure good fishing. In 1950, the U.S. government passed the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act (FASFRA). This voluntary agreement between the state and federal governments encourages states to protect endangered fish species and allows states to levy extra taxes on fishing gear like fish finders, poles, tackle and boat fuel [source: FWS]. The money goes to the federal government, which it uses to compensate up to 75 percent of costs borne by the states for fish conservation and management programs. It's been a successful program and a boon to states: In 2008, FASFRA yielded $398 million in grant funding [source: FWS].

The next time you grumble about having to purchase a license to fish or paying the fee, remember that fishing licenses not only help preserve fish populations, but better your chances of successfully landing a fish as well.

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  • Bury, R. Bruce. "Natural history, field ecology, conservation biology and wildlife management: time to connect the dots." Herpetological Conservation and Biology. September 27, 2006.http://www.herpconbio.org/volume_1/issue_1/Bury_2006.pdf
  • Mann, Charles. "1491." The Atlantic Monthly. March 2002.http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200203/mann
  • "Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act." Digest of Federal Resource Laws of Interest to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • "NJ license and permit information." New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.http://www.nj.gov/dep/fgw/licenses.htm
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  • "So you found a tagged fish?" Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Accessed November 13, 2008.http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/fisheries/tagged_fish_reporting/index.html
  • "Surcharge on fishing licenses will support rockfish research." Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. May 11, 2007.http://wdfw.wa.gov/do/newreal/release.php?id=may1107a
  • "The importance of fishing laws." Take Me Fishing.org. Accessed November 13, 2008.http://www.takemefishing.org/fishing/fishopedia/fishing-and-conservation/the-importance-of-fishing-laws
  • "Wildlife and sport fish restoration program: program update." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. September 2008.http://wsfrprograms.fws.gov/Subpages/AboutUs/WSFRProgramUpdate2008.pdf