Fishing, and to a large extent hunting, are unique among activities that use public resources in that anglers and hunters pay most of the bills for managing the resources. Indeed, in Mississippi, anglers pay the entire cost of fisheries management on public waters.

There are advantages to this user-pays concept, but the checkbook might be pretty thin.

Money from where?

Inland fisheries in Mississippi are managed by the Fisheries Bureau of Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. Fisheries activities are funded by license sales and federal funds provided by the Sport Fish Restoration Program.

Fishing license sales fluctuate a bit, but almost 381,000 people purchased licenses to fish in Mississippi in 2007. Those license sales generated approximately $4.3 million in revenue for freshwater fisheries.

Funds provided by the Sport Fish Restoration Program significantly boost funding for fisheries activities in all states and several U.S. territories. This unique program began as a Federal law - the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act-passed by Congress in 1950 mandating the collection of a 10-percent excise tax on rods, reels, creels, lures and related fishing tackle.

The revenue is deposited in a dedicated account and apportioned to the states by a formula based on the number of anglers and the land and water area. Very importantly, the act had a provision that ensured that no state fishing license revenues were diverted to non-fisheries uses.

The act has been modified four times, but the most significant change occurred in 1984 with the Wallop-Breaux amendment, which increased revenues into the fund by expanding the original excise tax to include: (1) nearly all items of fishing tackle and equipment, (2) recovering a portion of the federal fuel taxes paid on fuel used in motorboats, and (3) collecting import duties on fishing tackle and boats.

Although the taxes are collected from manufacturers by the Internal Revenue Service and distributed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the money ultimately comes from anglers.

The Sport Fish Restoration Program funds available for fisheries jumped from $38 million to $122 million in the first year after the Wallop-Breaux amendment. In 2008, almost $400 million were available to assist freshwater and coastal marine fisheries management. Mississippi received $4.4 million for inland fisheries.

These funds can be used to pay for up to 75 percent of fisheries management and other allowed activities, but must be matched with 25 percent of funds, including "in kind" contributions, from non-federal sources. As you might expect, there is a substantial volume of rules for the proper expenditure of these funds.

Money goes where?

Between license sales and Sport Fish Restoration funds, the Fisheries Bureau has about $8.7 million for operations. That's a chunk of change for you and me, but it's not a lot of money to run a fisheries program.

Think of a fishing trip from start to finish, and you get a better idea of the cost of providing fishing opportunities. The trip starts with the expectation of lakes or streams with good numbers of quality-size fish of species that interest anglers. Active management to achieve strong fish populations requires fisheries assessments to establish and adjust harvest regulations. Habitat management in the form of aquatic weed control or installing and maintaining fish attractors may be necessary or desirable.

At times, fish stocking may be necessary. When and where fish stocking is beneficial is a topic for another day, but the whole budget could be spent on pouring little fish into rivers and reservoirs if managers followed anglers' demands for stocking.

Wise management is based on scientifically valid information about how fishery systems work. A lot of information has been accumulated, but many questions remain unanswered. Therefore, fisheries research is often needed to help managers make good decisions and spend limited funds effectively. The research may evaluate the effect of harvest regulations, identify habitat problems or develop more effective ways to produce fish in hatcheries.

A lake full of fish is a good fishing opportunity only if you can get to it. That means constructing and maintaining boat ramps, fishing piers, bank access, parking lots and maybe even roads that connect the access to highways.

Providing fishing opportunities in 14,000 miles of rivers and streams and almost 300,000 acres of large public reservoirs stretches those dollars pretty thin and leaves many activities undone. Expect rising energy costs and their cascading effects to cause further belt-tightening.

You don't have to be an economist to realize that our inland fishery resources could benefit from increased funding.

Some fishery agencies receive funds appropriated by the state legislature. It is easy to argue for this. Fishing is an economic engine and generates about $500 million to the Mississippi economy each year. All people, whether they fish or not, benefit from healthy aquatic resources, and a recent study has demonstrated how good fishing stimulates the economic growth of a state.

State-appropriated funding has a downside, though. When funds get tight, the needs for essential public programs like education, police and fire protection and health care will trump fishery funding requests, and can leave an agency with a severe funding shortfall.

Increasing license fees is an obvious solution. A Mississippi resident fishing license is $8. Only West Virginia has a cheaper license, and a basic resident license costs $20 or more in many states. In Mississippi, resident license costs are established by the Legislature, and elected officials are reluctant to increase the tax burden on their constituents. Surely a year of fishing opportunities is worth more than two gallons of gas or a single movie ticket (matinee only).

One way anglers can benefit fisheries funding is maintaining a strong angler population. Introduce a friend to fishing. Remind your fishing drop-out buddy of what they're missing. More license sales mean more funds to improve fishing not only from license sales, but also from Sport Fish Restoration Program funds.

And having more anglers also helps muster the political support needed to keep our waters and fisheries healthy now and in the future.