Cost of boat fees, fishing licenses rising this year

Like a rising tide, higher costs for Florida Keys boaters and anglers start coming regularly in 2013 as state fees for fishing licenses and boat registration go up.

Unlike a rising tide, they almost certainly will not go down.

A new state system for automatically setting prices for boat registrations and fishing licenses begins this year as ordered by a bill passed in the 2008 Florida Legislature. The fee hikes begin with the state’s new state fiscal year in July.

A Florida resident’s annual recreational saltwater fishing license will increase by $2.08 — 13.4 percent — from the current $15.50 to $17.58. That does not include special species endorsements like the $5 lobster permit and surcharges for sales outlets.

Other sport license costs also rise. For example, a state resident’s combination saltwater and freshwater recreational fishing license goes from $31 to $35.18.

Boat registration fees see smaller increases.

Registering a Class 1 motorized boat (longer than 16 feet and below 26 feet, the most popular boat in the Keys) will rise by less than 2 percent from the current $28.75 for a basic state fee of $29.24.

Florida allows counties to impose a 50 percent optional fee for local marine and boating improvements. Monroe County adopted that fee in 2002, so a Class 1 boat registered in the Keys will cost $43.86, plus local fees.

Class 1 boats account for most of the boats registered in Monroe County: 13,771 of the 26,252 locally registered boats in 2011.

When the 2008 state law passed, lawmakers were dealing with a budget crisis. One way they balanced the budget while trying to avoid tax increases was to raise fees on a wide range of licenses and registrations.
Boating fees had not significantly increased in years, which created sticker shock for some boat owners. The basic state cost for Class 1 boats, unchanged for 17 years, went up by more than 50 percent in 2009.

In 2008, the Legislature also created a new a system of automatic fee increases to avoid steep hikes in a single year. Beginning in 2013, fees will be revised every three years based on the Consumer Price Index.

Overall, the state expects to generate $6.7 million in added revenue from statewide fishing, hunting and boating fee hikes this year. Recreational saltwater licenses alone will generate $2.6 million and boat registrations will generate $2.5 million.

The board of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, which heard a presentation on the new fees at its December meeting, must submit a report to the Legislature by Feb. 1 to outline how the higher fees will be spent.

FWC staff is outlining a proposal that allocates saltwater-license money to “purchase fuel to increase law-enforcement patrol,” improve scientific research and fisheries data collection, and restoration projects to “enhance fisheries and public fishing access opportunities.

Boating fees would go toward boat ramps, channel markings and removal of derelict vessels.

The number of boats registered in Monroe County has dropped by more than 10 percent over the past decade — from 29,204 in 2001 to 26,252 in 2011, according to state figures.

Florida’s total boat registrations also have dropped recent years, from more than 1 million in 2007 to 922,491 in 2011.

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