George H. W. Bush’s legacy to bass anglers

Whether you are a Republican, Democrat or independent, if you are a bass angler, you have been touched by the legacy of the late President George H. W. Bush.

Much has been written about Bush’s life as an outdoorsman, especially as an angler and how that translated into an environmental awareness and activism in his political life, both as Vice President under Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1989 and then as President from 1989 to 1993. 

In 1989, Bush proposed what many would call his most important environmental achievement: The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. This legislation helped drastically reduce power-plant emissions that caused acid rain. The legislation passed the Senate and House with unheard of bipartisan support for environmental regulation. Many of our lakes and reservoirs, rivers and streams are cleaner and more productive for it.

But from a bass fishing perspective, Bush’s greatest accomplishment was the role he played in the passage of amendments to the 1950 Dingell-Johnson (D-J) Sport Fish Restoration Act. Working with leaders of the fishing tackle and boating industry including B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott, Bush was able to push through what is known as the Wallop-Breaux amendment in 1984. Excise taxes are collected on just about any rods, reels, lures, terminal tackle, tackle boxes, fish finders, trolling motors or fishing accessories that you buy.  In addition, the federal gasoline tax on fuels purchased for use in motorboats and small gasoline-powered equipment engines also goes into the Aquatic Resources Trust Fund. This makes up over 55 percent of the Trust Fund revenue. 

The fund is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is apportioned to each state based on a formula of fishing license sales and land area. A provision Bush helped push through in 1991 secured the Trust Fund so that the money sent to the states cannot be used for anything other than the stated purposes in the legislation – it can’t be raided by greedy politicians to pay for other non-sportfishing projects. 

These excise tax collections amount to several hundred million dollars each year. In 2018 the USFWS distributed ​almost $352 million to state agencies. These funds are matched with state fishing license dollars to support fisheries management programs; bass population surveys; building and operating hatcheries and bass stocking; habitat protection and enhancement programs; fisheries research and monitoring efforts; construction of fishing and boating access facilities like docks, piers and boat ramps; and aquatic resources education programs teaching kids to fish. 

The Sport Fish Restoration Program is the one of the most successful user-pay/user-benefit systems in government. The excise taxes you pay when you purchase fishing tackle, accessories and motorboat fuels comes back to you through your state fisheries management agency. When you see this logo on the packaging of tackle you purchase or on a sign at the boat ramp, remember where the money ultimately comes from (your pocket), and thank George H. W. Bush and his political and fishing/boating industry allies for their support of the Sport Fish Restoration Program.