They’ve studied the issue for months, heard about it for a decade or more. But they still need more information.
Fishing licenses, it appears, aren’t a simple matter.
“I don’t think we’re to the point where we have firm figures to where we can do something without hurting somebody,” said Joe Stowe, executive director of the Lake Wylie Marine Commission.
Stowe’s group gets consistent feedback from people wanting reciprocal licenses, or one license allowing them to fish all of Lake Wylie. Because the South Carolina, North Carolina state line splits the lake, most anyone who fishes from a boat can end up fishing in both states. Sometimes without realizing it. Anglers caught fishing in either state without a license for that state can face fines.
While Stowe’s group and even state legislators say a reciprocal license would be more convenient for anglers, they also grapple with the economic impact.
“You’ve got a lot more people that are wanting to come and hunt and fish in York County than you do people wanting to go to Charlotte or Gastonia,” said S.C. Rep. Bruce Bryant.
North Carolina is “very willing” to work on a reciprocal license, Stowe said, for just that reason. If North Carolina has more people wanting to come south than South Carolina has wanting to go north, it’s South Carolina that could miss out on non-resident revenue by changing the current system. Revenue used to fund a variety of fish and wildlife programs.
About $100,000 to $110,000 annually comes in from non-resident fishing license sales in York County. The county gets about $20,000. The rest goes to the state. Annual licenses make up about 75 percent of that money, with 14-day licenses about 20 percent. The rest comes from a relatively small number of three-year licenses.
Non-residents buy about 2,500 total licenses each year.
For every 14-day license, a likely purchase for non-South Carolina residents fishing any of the hundreds of tournaments held on Lake Wylie each year, the state fish and wildlife protection fund gets $10. A dollar goes to the vendor selling the license.
Each annual license provides a dollar for the vendor, $17 to the fish and wildlife protection fund and $8.50 each to freshwater fish hatchery operations and the county game and fish fund.
Those funds pay for wildlife conservation, law enforcement and federal grant matches for sport fish programs, among other uses. A loss or reduction in funding could hurt environmental programs, a main reason why years of discussion on reciprocal licenses hasn’t sparked legislative change.
So, what now?
The biggest need for folks wanting a reciprocal license could be a drop down box. Stowe said more detailed data is needed on who buys non-resident licenses. Particularly, where do they live?
“This lake is heavily fished,” Stowe said. “We feel like the majority of people who are complaining about this live in the counties surrounding Lake Wylie.”
If the state had more information on how big an issue reciprocity is in Lake Wylie, Stowe reasons, wildlife officials and legislators could better come up with whatever revenue formula may be agreeable to all parties.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Stowe said.
There are several gaps now. South Carolina has about 500 license retailers statewide, including 19 in York County. If a Gaston County or Mecklenburg County resident walks into a Lake Wylie shop and buys a license, the county gets its portion. But if that same resident buys online, the county doesn’t.
“South Carolina does benefit from my purchase,” said former Lake Wylie Marine Commission member and Mecklenburg County resident Tim Mead, who buys his licenses online, “but the county does not.”
The license issue is almost unique to Lake Wylie. North Carolina has a reciprocal agreement with Virginia. South Carolina has one with Georgia. The Carolinas don’t, leaving out state-straddling lakes between those states.
“Lake Jocassee and Lake Wylie are the only two,” Bryant said.
Jocassee, northwest of Greenville, has just its northern tip extending into North Carolina. Wylie has the state line run almost throughout it, along the main channel. Causing more problems than just fishing license revenue.
“It’s a nightmare for law enforcement,” said Bryant, the long-time York County Sheriff before his election to the state legislature. “There’s no yellow lines out there in that water that say North Carolina or South Carolina.”
N.C. Rep. Scott Stone, who represents part of Mecklenburg County, agreed law enforcement is a major issue on the bi-state lake.
“That’s when it comes up and it’s heavy,” he said.
Yet legislators say they are interested in a solution to the fishing license question, too. If a multi-state agreement isn’t a solution, there has been discussion of lake-specific rules.
“Why not let them have reciprocity on Lake Wylie only?” Stowe asked.
Bryant said he hasn’t looked deep enough into it to see if it might work, but asked if something for Lake Wylie could be shaped similar to saltwater fishing licenses. A resident from either state can visit the beach in the other, and pay a small fee to fish off a pier while there. Some sort of Lake Wylie fishing license could be an answer.
“You could do that and the states could split the money,” Bryant said.
The counties surrounding Wylie could work toward a common license, but then questions might arise whether York County residents could use it to fish Lake Norman or Mountain Island Lake — both entirely surrounded by North Carolina. A final answer isn’t in place yet. First South Carolina leaders need to get a better understanding of how much money they might gain or lose, and what groups might be impacted.
“This is not an easy question,” Stowe said.