State moves to ramp up funding for marine habitat

House of Representatives approves measure to direct new license tag funding to Georgia coast

Posted on March 21, 2016

A measure carried by Rep. Alex Attwood (St. Simons) to strengthen the state wildlife license tag program was approved by the House last week and now needs only the companion bill carried by Sen. Ben Watson (Savannah) to pass the Senate to open the door for additional funding of coastal habitat projects. Coastal Conservation Association Georgia is the sponsor for HB 736 and has high hopes for the potential of the legislation.

“We are truly grateful to Rep. Attwood and Sen. Watson for their work on behalf of recreational angling and our marine resources. HB 736 will ensure that the wildlife license tag program will be able to grow and sustain itself far into the future,” said Brooks Binder, chairman of CCA Georgia’s Government Relations Committee. “We have a great opportunity to provide our citizens, particularly those with an interest in our coastal area, with a new wildlife tag to provide voluntary funding for marine habitat conservation, restoration, and enhancement.”

HB 736 will be a simple amendment to the existing program to direct $19 of every wildlife tag to a restricted fund administered by the Coastal Resources Division (CRD) of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, $1 paid to the local tag-issuing authority, and $5 to the General Fund. The Marine Habitat Conservation Fund administered by CRD would be used exclusively for projects to restore and enhance marine habitats through oyster reef creation, construction of manmade reefs along the shorelines of tidal rivers and creeks, and construction of manmade reefs in the Atlantic Ocean.

In addition to providing habitat for aquatic species, these projects also provide nursery and foraging areas of many reptile, bird and mammal species. Oyster reefs also help stabilize shorelines protecting them from the effects of storm erosion. None of the restricted funds will be used for administrative, overhead or salary costs.

“We believe that the marine habitat conservation tag is a great opportunity to enact smart public policy that does not require any new tax revenue or allocation of existing tax revenue from other programs,” said Binder.

If all goes well and the coastal license tag becomes reality, CCA Georgia is ready with a recommendation for what the image on the tag should be.

“The red drum is Georgia’s state saltwater fish and was given gamefish status by CCA Georgia efforts with the Georgia Legislature a few years ago,” said Binder. “Given the popularity of this species with anglers and its reliance of the marine habitats to be conserved by the funds generated by this tag, we think that this iconic fish would be a fantastic candidate for the first coastal tag.”