2012 Maryland General Assembly Legislative Summary
Despite an especially contentious atmosphere in the General Assembly and in key committees this year, CCA Maryland’s volunteers were successful in leading the charge for new laws that can lead to real changes in how our state’s fisheries are managed in the future.
CCA Maryland is pleased to announce that the cost recovery concept language developed and advocated by CCA Maryland passed both the House of Delegates and Senate and was signed into law by Governor O’Malley on May 2nd. This language was originally introduced in House Bill 1173, sponsored by Delegates Jim Gilchrist and Marvin Holmes. After determining that the bill’s key points could pass and become law if reasonably amended, CCA Maryland successfully negotiated consensus provisions with key Delegates, the Department of Natural Resources, commercial fishing groups, and other conservation organizations. To ensure its passage, CCA Maryland also arranged to incorporate this key language in a different Department-sponsored bill, House Bill 1372. Once in place, this consensus bill sailed through both the House and Senate and their respective committees and will now actually lead to positive changes for recreational anglers and all of Maryland’s citizens.
These amendments include a new provision that requires any appropriation of general funds for fisheries management purposes to be allocated between the recreational and commercial fisheries in a “fair and reasonable” manner. While some may incorrectly question the effect of this language, before CCA’s efforts there had been no restriction on how these general funds were used; thus allowing general taxpayer’s dollars to be used to subsidize the management of commercial fisheries and allowing commercial license fees to remain artificially low for far too long. In fact, analysis of the FY2012 budget shows that commercial industries received 65% of general fund appropriations, with recreational fisheries received only 16%. The bill also directs the Department to complete a summer study, due to the General Assembly by October 1st of this year, reporting how the commercial license structure and associated fees must change to achieve a greater level of cost accountability by July 1, 2013.
After study and discussions with Department and Natural Resources Police to ensure they would not lead to any enforcement problems, CCA Maryland also agreed to amendments advocated by watermen’s groups that include provisions that allowed greater flexibility in the management of their individual businesses and the lawful use of their commercial licenses. The bill also includes the required statutory change that allows the Department to charge the commercial industry for the operation of a ‘hail in/hail out’ system and for commercial fish tags- statutory changes that had been advocated for and sought by the Department itself since July 2011.
The issue of cost recovery was highlighted because of the continuing problems with illegal commercial gill nets that resulted in significantly increased expenditures for enforcement and accountability. In November 2011, DNR finalized a set of enhanced regulations and penalties aimed at curbing the illegal use of nets. These new requirements, along with other factors including a warmer than normal winter and increased peer pressure within the commercial community, resulted in no major gill net infractions like those seen in prior years. Critically, the cost recovery language successfully advocated for by CCA Maryland impacts all fisheries- including striped bass, crabs and oysters- and not just one gear type. CCA Maryland believes that the enactment of House Bill 1372 is a major step toward achieving cost recovery and toward our organization’s stated goal that all fisheries, both commercial and recreational, are manageable, accountable, and enforceable.
CCA Maryland acted on numerous other bills on a variety of fisheries and clean water issues. Among them, CCA testified in support of House Bill 1306 that streamlined many issues facing the state’s developing oyster aquaculture industry and smoothed the way for its continued success. CCA also appeared and testified in support of House Bill 446/Senate Bill 240, which called for an increase in the fees charged to property owners to underwrite the Bay Restoration Fund, which is used to fund capital improvements to the state’s major wastewater treatment plants, to pay for septic system upgrades and to pay for winter cover crops on farm fields. While we spend countless hours debating gear types and the nuances of fisheries management and science, the simple fact is that without clean water we will have no fish and won’t be able to enjoy the Bay we love. After all, chances are that we spend more time on the water than 99% of the State’s population. CCA Maryland believes that just as recreational anglers have a responsibility on the water to be responsible stewards of our fisheries, we have an important public role to play in minimizing the impact recreational anglers have by living in the Bay’s watershed.
A spreadsheet listing the major bills tracked by the Government Relations Committee and their progression through the General Assembly can be found here.