The poorest legislation

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 18, 2003

We had better start keeping a better eye on those guys in the General Assembly. Judging by the quality of the legislation being proposed this session we made some poor choices last Election Day.

Eventually, I’ll give you a list of all the pending legislation I can find that affects sportsmen, but initially I wish to commend to your attention the poorest piece of &uot;legislation&uot; I have seen in over 50, going on 60, years of outdoor writing.

This Bill, HR 2154, was drafted and introduced by Delegate Phillip A. Hamilton of Newport News. I assume that Mr. Hamilton is fairly new to the General Assembly because I never heard of him before.

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HB 2154 proposes to combine the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries with the Virginia Resources Commission. To bring these organizations together in some manner isn’t the worse idea in the world. In fact, I believe such a marriage in eventually inevitable, but Hamilton’s Bill won’t do it.

There are lots of problems with Hamilton’s proposal, but the main one without a doubt is his funding proposal. He reminds me of the legislators of the 1916 era who formed the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries as a department attached to the Fisheries Commission, but gave it no money with which to operate and gave it space to work in the cloakroom of the Senate.

At present the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries operates with funds derived from the Game Protection Fund, the Lifetime License Endowment Fund, the Boat Fund, sales tax funds from House Bill 38 and federal funds allotted on a matching basis for approved projects. No such federal funds are available for law enforcement.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission operates largely on General Funds appropriated from the state treasury, funds from the sale of sport fishing license and some federal matching funds.

Delegate Hamilton would have both agencies combined, but would operate only on funds from the Game Department’s Game Protection Fund and the Lifetime License Endowment Fund. He further stipulates that no general funds may be used by the combined agency. This funding would set the fish and game and marine fisheries management back to 1916!

Looking at HB 2154 one wonders if legislators realize that organizations actually have to live and function with the legislation they create should it be approved.

For the past 77 years the director of the Game Commission has been appointed by the Board resulting in directors with sufficient tenure to get the job done right. By making the director an appointee by the Governor the agency will have a succession of newcomers with varying degrees of expertise.

Another problem with the proposed merger is philosophical. The philosophy of the Game Department has been oriented more towards the preservation of the species not the user, while the Marine Resources Commission has a definite orientation towards the user, the commercial fishermen, rather than the resource.

You can let your legislator know how you feel about this bill. Just call, toll free, 1-800-889-0229 and leave a message.

Believe me, they’ll get the word.

For years the General Assembly has also had a commercial oriented leaning towards the management of the marine resources. To attempt to merge these two organizations into a single body would be traumatic, at least at first. It would seem that a better approach would be to create a Department of Natural Resources under which both organizations and others could operate independently. In the meantime the General Assembly could get out of the resource management business by returning the management of menhaden to the Marine Resources Commission.

Actually, HB 2154 requires a great deal more scrutiny than I have time to give. It is a shame that so many man-hours will be spent in state government and in the legislature on such a poorly conceived piece of legislation. &uot;Passed by Indefinitely&uot; should be the fate of this bill and the sooner the better. You can let your legislator know how you feel about this bill. Just call, toll free, 1-800-889-0229 and leave a message. Believe me, they’ll get the word.

Other Legislation

Among some of the other legislation pending is HB141 dealing with waterfowl blinds, mainly cleaning up local acts and removing the prohibition on floating blinds in certain northern counties. There is a bill to increase the fee for nonresident hunting license. Also a bill will allow hunters to donate $2 to Hunters for the Hungry when they purchase their hunting licenses. There is a bill that will permit licensing of a boat for freshwater fishing and anyone in such licensed boat would not be required to have a license. There are several more bills pending and I hope to build a

complete list as we get into this session.

Field Notes

Retired Sergeant Leon Smith of Petersburg bagged a terrific 25 point buck on Fort Lee on the last day of the hunting season….On the last day of the striped bass season a 60 pound striper was caught at the Bridge Tunnel….Despite the cold weather anglers on Chickahominy Lake have been doing well with bass, pickerel, crappie and white perch….Some very large yellow perch have been caught at Lake Moomaw. Larry Andrews at the Bait Place believes a new state record is possible here as the perch fill with roe…Lots of ringnecked ducks appear to be in the area right now…I hear there was an old fashioned striped bass &uot;blitz&uot; in the surf at Sandbridge Monday. Charter boats working stripers also reported finding them close to the beach. Monday was a very good day….Saltwater anglers are red hot in opposition to a proposed increase in recreational fishing licenses without a proportional increase in commercial fishing licenses…Angler who try are

catching some nice blue cats in the James and Chickahominy Rivers…A few puppy drum and speckled trout were caught at Cape Point Monday….Talk about going first class, in Lincolnton, N.C. a couple of guys were caught shooting deer from a limousine…A Louisiana sheriff was caught hunting ducks with lead shot over bait and with two birds over the limit. He was fined $2,100 , but still goes on enforcing the law…There were 7,104 citations awarded by the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament last year. This is the second highest total ever, topped only by 8,299 citations in 2001. For the first time striped bass striped bass accounted for the most citations. There were 904 in all, 13 percent of the total. Seventy percent of the striper citations were releases….Apparently the best time to catch a citation tautog is during the first four months of the year. There were 418 citation ‘togs caught last year (the most since ’74) and 80% of them were caught from January through April….There were 593 citation spot caught last season. There were also 592 white marlin, 570 flounders and 506 dolphins. The dolphin count was the highest ever, almost double the previous high of 261 set in 1991…How do you get to the &uot;Second Hot Ditch&uot; on the York River? For boaters the entrance is just to the right (upstream) of the Amoco Pier. For bank fishermen take Seaford Road off of Rt. 17. Go to the end then left on Dandy Road. The ditch is on the left.