|Bass boats drink fuel faster than the largest of SUV’s. As cost push past $4.00/gallon, bass tournaments like this one on the Kanawha River could become luxuries many anglers cannot afford — Photo: wvbass.com|
The soaring cost of gasoline is beginning to impact fishermen across the nation and here in West Virginia.
Anglers who in past years have ventured to the bass rich lakes of the south are now planning outings closer to home. The cost of filling up and driving to destinations in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida is a hit many just aren’t able to take, no matter the lure of big bass.
"We have heard that and I think that’s going to be the case for boaters and non-boating anglers alike," said DNR Warmwater fisheries chief Brett Preston. "They are staying closer to home and limiting the distance they travel on the river. It doesn’t have to negate the experience of fishing and we hope folks continue to participate, but certainly the cost of gasoline can be an obstacle."
On the one hand, that helps West Virginia with more fishing and commerce related to the local fishing trips. However, the other side of the issue isn’t attractive.
Even those staying at home are feeling the pinch. Ask any angler you see filling up a boat and his pickup truck or SUV at a local gas station and you’ll hear groaning. The threshold of pain is unclear. Fishermen love to be on the water and love their boats, but where it ultimately stops isn’t clear.
Preston fears the impact of high gas prices will deter fishing activity, but he’s even more concerned it could impact DNR revenues reaped from the Wallop-Breaux Act. The Congressional action for years has placed a federal excise tax on motorboat fuel. The revenue is distributed among state fisheries agencies for acquisition and construction of river access points.
"A small percentage of that federal excise tax on motor boat fuel does come back to West Virginia and we use that money for matching funds to develop boat access points in the state," said Preston. "It’s very similar to the Sportfish Restoration Act where that tax comes back from the purchase of fishing tackle. It’s really critical to West Virginia."
The fuel tax is of great importance to West Virginia since the DNR is launching two of the largest boat ramp construction projects in the agency’s history. One ramp and parking lot will be developed on the Kanawha River at Nitro. The other will be on the Monongahela River at Fort Martin north of Morgantown. Money for both projects comes largely from the fuel tax.
Talk continues to swirl on Capitol Hill in Washington about the best ways to ease the cost of gasoline. One of the ways may be to cut the federal taxes. Although miniscule, any cuts to that tax would impact the motorboat fuel excise tax that makes up the funding for the ramps.
"Down the road a reduction in that federal tax could affect how much money comes back into the state," said Preston. "That’s a difficult decision to make because we all understand the economic impact of a high fuel cost, but that potentially down the road could impact the amount of money coming back into the state for public access development."