May 2018
From Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries

The Unseen Value of a Freshwater Fishing License

Where does the money go when you buy a freshwater fishing license?


WFF operates three warm-water fish hatcheries that produce and stock 3-4 million fish into Alabama’s public waters each year.

In Alabama, having a valid freshwater fishing license means you are good to go for fishing in the inland public waters of the state for bass, crappie, catfish, bream or any other sport fish or nonsport fish species not otherwise protected by regulation. But, in reality, it means so much more.

When you purchase a fishing license, these fees are deposited into Alabama’s Game and Fish Fund and are soon put to work to help conserve, protect and manage our wildlife and fisheries resources. I’m confident you know by now that Alabama’s Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries does not receive any funding from the Alabama General Fund. I’ve tried over the past several years to stress the fact that hunters and fishermen pay for the services we provide. Therefore, it is critical for the success of our programs for us to sell as many hunting and fishing licenses as we can.

In addition, when you purchase fishing rods, reels, lures, hooks and line, you support manufacturers that pay federal excise taxes on those goods. Those federal excise taxes, through what is known as Sport Fish Restoration grants, are passed on to game and fish agencies such as WFF to fund projects for the management and enhancement of sport fish populations and to improve the public’s ability to enjoy them. And guess what? Alabama’s annual share of that Sport Fish Restoration funding is in part calculated by the number of fishing licenses sold in the state.

More Alabama fishing licenses sold equals a larger share of Sport Fish Restoration funds available for Alabama. For every state dollar (license dollar) spent on one of these projects, three Sport Fish Restoration dollars are added to cover the costs. That is a terrific return on anglers’ investments.

So, you might ask, what do these funds pay for anyway?

Fish Hatcheries: WFF operates three warm-water fish hatcheries that produce and stock 3-4 million fish into Alabama’s public waters each year. These fish stockings are intended to establish or enhance sport fishing opportunities.

Reservoir Management: WFF biologists annually sample fish populations in Alabama lakes and reservoirs to determine their condition. Based on this data and angler creel survey interviews, biologists can recommend specific management regulations such as creel limits or length limits that are beneficial to fisheries.

Fisheries Research: Scientific studies are contracted through various universities to answer specific fisheries’ management-related questions. The results of these studies are utilized by WFF biologists to formulate fisheries’ management strategies for public water bodies.

Canoe Creek on Neely Henry Reservoir in St. Clair County was constructed in 2017 and serves 80 boaters.


Boating Access: Approximately 115 freshwater public boat ramps are maintained annually by WFF on public water bodies throughout the state. New boat ramps are constructed in desirable areas based on land acquisitions, primarily through extended leases. Existing facilities are also expanded at high-use locations.

Technical Assistance to Pond and Lake Owners: WFF biologists provide technical assistance to private pond and lake owners and reservoir operators regarding sport fish management. Those requesting assistance are provided with the necessary information to remedy their problems. In certain cases, onsite visits are scheduled, free of charge, for biologists to better understand the owners’ specific concerns. Typically, over 300 on-site pond checks are conducted annually by WFF biologists.

Public Fishing Lakes: WFF operates and manages 23 public fishing lakes located in 20 counties. These lakes are 13-184 acres. The purpose of this program is to provide quality fishing at an affordable price in areas lacking sufficient natural waters to meet the needs of the public.

Fish Habitat Enhancement: This program utilizes both natural and artificial material to enhance and restore fish habitat in public water bodies. These habitats serve as fish attractors and are utilized by anglers to increase their chances of fishing success.


WFF biologists annually sample fish populations in Alabama lakes and reservoirs to determine their condition.

Aquatic Education: This program focuses on educating Alabama’s youth on the importance of our valuable aquatic ecosystems. Other aspects include teaching novice anglers how to fish, through fishing and casting classes.

Environmental Affairs: This program provides technical guidance to government and nongovernment entities regarding the protection and preservation of Alabama’s valuable aquatic resources.

Rivers and Streams Fisheries: This program focuses on the special needs of the many fish species that require flowing water systems for survival. These species cannot persist in the static waters of lakes and reservoirs, and many populations are now at risk

As you can see, a fishing-license purchase is not just a pass to allow you to go fishing. It represents your contribution to the conservation and management of Alabama’s fisheries resources and aquatic habitats. It means you are a participant in the conservation ethic that has been a tradition of North American hunters and anglers for over a century and you care about Alabama’s wildlife and fisheries resources.



Chuck Sykes is director of the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.