In looking for money to fund dredging of North Carolina's coastal inlets, a bill in the state legislature would create a new fee for coastal fishing licenses and boating registration.

But it might cost the state more than its worth.

Senate Bill 821 was introduced May 21 in the short session by co-sponsors Harry Brown (R-Jones/Onslow), Thom Goolsby (R-New Hanover) and Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick/Columbus/Pender).


However, the bill has an obvious road block; it likely would violate U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Sport Fish Restoration Act and could cost the state millions of dollars in matching federal funds based on the sale of fishing licenses, boating fees and boating fuel taxes.


Also known as the Wallop-Breaux Act, the Sport Fish Restoration Act said that federal funds will be available to match funds collected by the states – but only if these collected fees are spent on fish restoration or fisheries projects, and it specifically addresses legislation that diverts funds away from a state's fisheries agencies.


Dr. Louis Daniel III, executive director of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, and Gordon Myers, executive director of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, believe that S 821 already may have run aground because of that requirement.


"We believe, based on the responses we have received from the Fish and Wildlife Service, (this type of fee) could be considered a diversion of funds," Daniel said. "We're waiting on a letter (of clarification) from Mike Picarelli of the FWS.


"Right now, we have a preliminary review, and it's telling us this does conflict with FWS policy, but the FWS has to make the final decision. They are the arbiters of that money."


Republicans in charge of the legislature seem more interested in obtaining funds for projects through user fees than a general tax on the entire boating population in North Carolina. One section of S 821 suggests assessing a user fee for commercial and recreational vessels that use North Carolina inlets.


Myers said it would be almost impossible to identify those vessels and would not be cost-effective.


"I go to the coast myself, but I stay mostly inshore when I fish," he said. "Sometimes I go out the inlets, but not often. You also could have someone who lives in Hickory and keeps his boat in Morehead City and uses that inlet. It's also possible a person in Morehead could have his boat at Buggs Island."


Daniel said Wallop-Breaux funds are apportioned 25 percent to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries and 75 percent to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.


"(Each division) also gets an allocation for boating-access (construction), but (DMF) turns its money back over to (NCWRC) because they have the expertise and ability to construct boat ramps all over the state," Daniel said.


Myers sees similar problems cropping up with USFWS if the state tries to divert boating or marine fuel fees or fishing license fees toward dredging of inlets, "but I'm encouraged (the politicians) are focusing on this problem," he said. "It's a problem that needs a solution, and I hope this strong interest hopefully will bring forth some good ideas. Access into and out of shallow-draft inlets is critical to recreational and commercial boaters in this state."