A new user fee for anglers who fish the San Juan River’s trophy, trout waters overcame its first hurdle in the Legislature this week with passage of House Bill 51 by the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.
Under the proposed law a new habitat stamp would be added to state fishing licenses for those who wish to fish the San Juan River’s quality waters.
State residents would be charged an extra $5 a year on top of the usual cost of an annual fishing license while out-of-state anglers who want to the fish the state’s top trout fishery would have to pay an extra $10.
The stamp requirement would expire after ten years under a sunset provision and is estimated to generate between $225,000 to 325,000 a year.
Money generated from the extra stamp charge would be earmarked exclusively for habitat improvement projects on the San Juan River
’s quality waters, where some say the fishing quality has declined in recent years.
The stamp idea grew out of stakeholder meetings last year to address issues regarding the fabled, blue ribbon trout stream including complaints about the degradation of fish habitat due to silt and sediment accumulation brought on by federally mandated, lower water releases from the dam at Navajo Lake.
The legislation comes on the heels of the loss of $250,000 in state capital outlay funds appropriated for habitat improvements on the river last year and supporters of the bill say it’s only appropriate for users of the river to now shoulder the burden for the improvements.
“We support it, there’s just no other way in this economic climate,” says Rudy Rios, president of New Mexico Trout. ” It’s a small price to pay for the quality they’re (anglers) getting.”
One priority project on the books that has been waiting on funding is diversion of a wash that drains directly into the top end of the river and is a major contributor of silt and sediment to the river at highly popular Texas Hole.
Other projects under consideration include increasing access and improving fish habitat in other sections of the river to reduce overcrowding and pressure on the more popular areas, says State Game Commission Chairman Jim McClintic.
“We want to make this one of the finest fisheries in the U.S.A.
,” McClintic told members of the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee during their hearing of the bill at the state capitol on Thursday (Jan 28).
Angling on the San Juan River contributes anywhere from $20 million to $40 million to the state’s economy each year, according to the state Department of Game and Fish.
McClintic said in an interview prior to the committee meeting that he saw no other way to raise the funds needed for those improvements that anglers wanted.
“The people who use it should have to pay for it,” he said.
Greg McReynolds of Trout Unlimited complained that the extra charge to anglers would make it harder to raise fees in the future to support other initiatives like native trout restoration. He also argued for a shorter sunset provision of three years and asked that there be more public involvement and a clearer plan of action before proceeding.
“We may support this bill later,” he told the committee.
Larry Johnson of the San Juan River Guides Association and owner of Soaring Eagle Lodge says the stamp idea enjoys broad support among fishing guides, fly shops, and other business owners on the San Juan River at Navajo Dam.
“My clients tell me another $10 isn’t going to kill them especially after all the money they spent to come fish here in the first place,” Johnson says.
About 70 percent of those fishing the river come from out of state, according to state Department of Game and Fish statistics.
The bill enjoys the support of Governor Bill Richardson, according to his spokesperson, Alarie Ray-Garcia, because it provides targeted funding, is paid for by the anglers who fish the river, it allows the Department of Game & Fish to address recent concerns regarding fish habitat, angler access, and siltation and also allows the department to conduct habitat and fishery studies.
House Bill 51, sponsored by House Minority Leader Tom Taylor, R-San Juan, is slated to go next before the House Energy Minerals and Natural Resources Committee.
This article appeared also appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican .