A bipartisan, bicameral agreement reached on the U.S. Transportation Bill reauthorization is drawing high praise from the nation’s sportfishing industry and the broader recreational fishing community. The compromise reached by members of the Transportation Bill conference committee includes two measures, the RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act and reauthorization of the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, that together, will have a significant impact on fisheries conservation and habitat enhancement in the United States.

“The importance of this agreement to recreational fishing across the country, and in the Gulf of Mexico region in particular, cannot be overstated,” said American Sportfishing Association (ASA) Vice President Gordon Robertson. “We are extremely grateful that the members of the conference committee were able to reach a compromise that will benefit our nation’s fisheries resources and the anglers who enjoy them for years to come.”

The conference report for the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, commonly known as the Highway Transportation Bill, includes nearly-identical language to the RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act as reported out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in September, 2011.

The bill directs 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties charged to BP as a result of the April 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the restoration of the Gulf Coast environment and economy. Without Congressional action, these penalties, which are estimated to be between $5.4 and $21.1 billion, would go into the general treasury instead of towards Gulf recovery. The majority of these funds will be distributed to the five Gulf Coast states and the newly established Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council for economic and environmental restoration projects throughout the Gulf of Mexico region, such as wetlands restoration, construction of boat ramps and tourism promotion.

Of particular importance to fisheries management, the RESTORE Act also establishes a program that will provide funding for needed fisheries stock assessments and data collection in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Many Members of Congress played significant roles in supporting the RESTORE Act, but ASA particularly thanks the leadership of Senators Landrieu (D-La.), Nelson (D-Fla.) and Shelby (R-Ala.) and Representative Scalise (R-La.) for seeing this through to the finish,” said Robertson. “Without their dedicated efforts to ensure that the RESTORE Act remained in the Transportation Bill, it could have easily been left out.”

A separate section of the Transportation Bill reauthorizes the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, commonly known as the Wallop-Breaux Act, which directs hundreds of millions of dollars annually to state fish and wildlife agencies’ fishing and boating programs. Funds for this important program are collected largely from the federal manufacturers excise taxes on fishing equipment and the motorboat fuel tax. The program had to be authorized as part of the Transportation Bill in order to capture the revenue from that part of the federal fuel tax attributable to motor boat and small engine use.

“Through the Sport Fish Restoration program, the sportfishing industry provides the backbone of fisheries management and conservation funding in this country,” said Robertson. “In these lean fiscal times, all federal programs are at risk, but ASA and our partners have diligently worked to ensure that the success and vitality of this program will remain secure.”

The conference report also featured language to expedite efforts to prevent the further spread of the invasive Asian carp, which poses a significant threat to the Great Lakes region, another issue of high priority to the sportfishing community.

The Transportation Bill, which funds and authorizes surface transportation infrastructure programs in the United States, is set to expire on June 30. The reauthorization bill agreed upon by the conference committee is expected to be enacted prior to the deadline, possibly as soon as Friday, June 29.

Image courtesy American Sportfishing Association

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