Fishing line

The All-American logo on this fishing line includes the words, “Made in China.”

No one wants the items they want to buy to cost more. No one wants the the items they want to sell to sell less. So an unusual thing happened back in 1950 with the passage of the Federal Aid in Sport Fishing Act. Both buyers and sellers supported it.

The FASFA tacked an excise tax on fishing tackle and other gear. Supporters of the legislation then (and now) included anglers as well as makers of rods, reels, lures, fishing electronics and other gear. Most items are taxed at the 10 percent level.

Both fishermen and tackle makers understood the need for state fisheries management agencies to manage the fish populations in their area, to provide fishing areas, access sites and address water purity issues. That all takes money and the FASFA provided those dollars.

The most important thing about the law was the provisions making it’s impossible for politicians or bureaucrats at either the federal or state level to divert the money it raises to other uses. It all goes to enhance fish populations and fishing success.

Not so with most laws. For instance, the spate of gasoline tax increases which occurred in many states recently was sold to the citizens as a way to pay for better roads and highways. In most states, safeguards were not added to the laws to keep the fuel tax money from being diverted to fund pet projects having nothing to do with transportation. How much better do you expect Illinois roads to become with the new 19 cents per gallon assessment?

So why now have leaders from the sportfishing industry testified against proposed tariffs being proposed by U.S. Trade Representatives? Number one is the fact listed in the first sentence. No fisherman wants to spend more money when they buy a lure, fishing rod or other gear — especially since the money the government would collect from the proposed tariffs would not be earmarked in any way to benefit anglers, fish or the environment.

In May the administration proposed a list of approximately $300 billion in Chinese imports to be subject to tariffs of up to 25%. This list of imports includes fishing equipment manufactured or sold by American Sportfishing Association’s members including fishing rods, hooks, reels, lines and other fishing equipment.

“We understand the position of the president regarding current trade relations with China and we support realigning the trade agreements to correct unfair trade practices,” said ASA’s president, Glenn Hughes. “However, we are deeply concerned about the impacts of these proposed tariffs on all the manufacturers who are already paying a unique excise tax of up to 10% to support sportfish restoration.”

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How significant is this? Currently, approximately sixty percent of all the fishing equipment sold each year is imported to the United States with two-thirds of this imported equipment coming from China. For many product categories, China is the only current option to produce some of this fishing equipment as they have the supply lines and infrastructure already in place to meet anglers’ demands.

That’s not an unusual amount in many product categories such as tools, auto parts, housewares and others. The goal of the negotiations, of course, is to bring China into international compliance with fair trade policies. Non-compliance and non-enforcement is what allowed China to become the global leader in producing “cheap stuff” in the first place. It’s nice, as a consumer, to be able to purchase items inexpensively, but often those are just direct costs. Indirect costs of being able to purchase fishing line, a lure or any other product made in China are harder to quantify. Those costs dig into everyone’s pocket at some point, whether they know it or not.

If the trade deal/tariff negotiations don’t produce an agreement, fishing tackle makers will ultimately move production to other countries. Maybe some would come back to the USA, others would move their facilities to places like Viet Nam or Indonesia. All of this will take considerable time and money and tariffs or not, will end up costing American anglers more money.

All of these cost increases will ultimately trickle down to the federal aide money raised by the sportfishing act. The ASA representatives pointed out in their testimoney, if fishing gear remains an equal partner in the proposed tariffs, the impact is going to be felt as much by America’s fisheries resource as it is by America’s fishermen and women.

Hughes completed his testimony with this, “Our members contribute almost $150 million each year to conservation and they know this funding goes to good use and increased fishing opportunities for anglers. The proposed tariffs and the associated increases on the cost of fishing equipment are expected to result in a substantial reduction in consumer spending. Fewer fishing equipment purchases means less revenue for fisheries conservation and management.”