Providing fishing opportunities costs money. Think about it. A launching ramp with a 3-acre parking lot and a road to it might cost $1 million. Modern hatcheries cost $10-20 million, maybe more. The new North Mississippi Hatchery cost $12 million.

The operating budget - personnel, equipment, facilities maintenance, etc. - for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks' Bureau of Fisheries is approximately $5 million per year. Now throw in the salaries and expenses of the conservation officers who serve both fish and wildlife interests. It adds up to big bucks.

Who pays the bills? If you are thinking licensed anglers, you are partly right.

Mississippi fishing license revenues for 2009 were a little less than $8 million. But substantial funding for fisheries programs in Mississippi and every other state comes from the Sport Fish Restoration Program.

This beneficial program came into existence in 1950. You may also know it as the Dingell-Johnson program, named after the congressmen who championed it, or possibly the Wallop-Breaux program, named after the congressmen who facilitated an important amendment to the program. In the beginning, funds came from taxes paid by manufacturers on rods, reels, lures and other fishing equipment. Of course, the manufacturers passed these charges on to the consumers.

In its early years, some tens of millions of dollars were distributed to the states based on the number of licensed anglers and the amount of fishable waters. No state would get more than 5 percent of the fund, and no state would get less than 1 percent.

These rules of apportionment have remained largely unchanged, but the program has enjoyed several sizable expansions. Taxes on marine electronics, import taxes and, most importantly, part of the federal excise tax on marine fuels greatly increased the fund. The marine fuel tax is from fuels sold at marinas but also a portion of the gasoline sold at highway gas stations.

The Sport Fish Restoration Fund now provides more than $500 million to be apportioned to the states annually. Mississippi will receive approximately $4 million in Sport Fish Restoration funds in 2010; approximately $3.4 million will go to freshwater fisheries.

Clearly, this is a tremendous boon to fisheries management. There are provisions to how the money is spent. And, as is always the case when government and money get together, there is bureaucracy and audits. While troublesome, there is a very good side to the audits. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Federal Aid that administers the program ensures that all license revenues are dedicated to fisheries. The state forfeits its entire SFR apportionment if any license revenues are spent for programs or activities that do not directly benefit fishery resources, boating access or aquatic education.

There is something that every angler should note: This is a user tax. Every crankbait, spinnerbait, rod, reel, depth finder and gallon of gas for your boat builds this fund. Taxes are unpopular, but the SFR Program is something anglers should be proud of because they are contributing to healthy recreational fisheries.

The SFR Program is one of many that are frequently evaluated by Congress, and this essential program comes up for reauthorization this year. There is no guarantee that Congress will continue it, particularly in these tough economic times. The sport-fishing and boating industries and angler organizations will be fighting hard to maintain the SFR Program.

As an angler, you have been doing your part to ensure healthy fisheries and quality fishing opportunities by contributing to the program. Encourage your congress people to help you continue to invest in the future of fishing by supporting reauthorization of the SFR Program. It's good for the fish, and it's good for fishing.