The Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, managed by the Seafood and Wildlife Service, provides federal grants that support recreational boating activities such as safety programs and boat ramp installation.
About half of the funding for the Trust Fund comes from taxes on motorboat fuel. Import duties plus other taxes, such as taxes on sport fishing equipment, also support it. The taxes are imposed on businesses but may be passed onto consumers—via increased costs on these products.
Anyone can buy products like sport fishing equipment, so the extent to which boat users are contributing to the fund is unknown.
A Boat Access Site in Jacksonville, Florida, with amenities that serve different types of recreational boat owners
What GAO Found
Over a quarter of the U. S. population engaged in leisure boating in 2018, according to a survey commissioned by the U. S. Coast Guard. The survey also estimated that more motorized vessels were used (5. 0 million) at least once in 2018, compared with nonmotorized vessels, such as kayaks (3. 9 million).
The Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund (Trust Fund), managed from the Fish in addition to Wildlife Service (FWS), received tax and import duty revenues averaging about $713 million for fiscal years 2012 through 2021, adjusted for inflation. Motorboat fuel taxes make up about 49 percent of this funding.
Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund Revenues, Fiscal Years 2012 through 2021
Note: Data have been adjusted with regard to inflation and are presented in fiscal year 2021 dollars. See figure 3 in this report regarding more information on these types of revenue sources.
Because of the indirect way that the Trust Fund is supported—through taxes and import duties—GAO was not able to determine the full extent that users of nonmotorized and motorized vessels contribute to the Trust Fund. These taxes are enforced on refiners of gasoline along with manufacturers or importers of certain items, and they may be passed on to consumers because an increased cost when they purchase products, such since tackle boxes, and angling rods. All vessel users—as well as individuals who do not own a vessel—can purchase these products. An exception is the motorboat fuel tax, where the formula is used to estimate the portion of fuel taxes attributable to motorboats based on the number of registered motorized vessels.
The Trust Fund supports several programs, including the Boating Access program managed by FWS, and the Recreational Boating Safety program managed by the Coast Guard. Grants awarded under these programs fund activities, such as building boat ramps or educating boaters on safety issues, that can benefit both types of vessel users. As a result, GAO was not able to determine the specific extent that nonmotorized and motorized vessels users benefit from these activities.
Why GAO Did This Study
Recreational boating is a popular activity in the U. S. It includes the use of both nonmotorized and motorized vessels. The Trust Fund provides federal funding for boating recreation actions, including improving boating access and promoting boating security. There have been discussions on the equitability of contributions in order to the Trust Fund, including which vessel users pay the taxes that fund the Trust Fund, according to stakeholders.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes a provision for GAO to examine recreational boating, along with the use associated with certain funding from the Trust Fund related to this activity. This report examines (1) the use regarding nonmotorized and motorized ships; (2) the extent that will users of these vessels have contributed to the Trust Fund; and (3) the extent that the Trust Account has been used with regard to boating access and protection activities to benefit customers of those vessels.
GAO reviewed laws, regulations, and FWS and Coast Guard documents. GAO analyzed two surveys commissioned by the Coast Guard conducted in 2018 (the most recent data available). In addition, GAO analyzed data from the Department of the Treasury. GAO also interviewed FWS plus Coast Guard officials; two federal advisory groups (the Sport Fishing and Sailing Partnership Council and the particular National Boating Safety Advisory Committee); nongovernmental organizations involved with boating issues; in addition to boating officials from five states, selected based on geographic diversity and other factors.
For more information, contact Cardell D. Johnson at (202) 512-3841 or [email protected] gov .