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Freshwater Fishing Distinctive License Plates

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Where can I get one? This is a typical response our staff receives from individuals after they view the new Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) “Freshwater Fishing” distinctive license plate. This colorful license plate depicts a largemouth bass, the state’s official freshwater fish, and has up to six spaces for optional personalization. It replaces the “Take a Kid Fishing” license plate, which has been in production since 2006. The “Freshwater Fishing” distinctive license plate is currently available to interested motor vehicle owners at county probate offices statewide for an annual fee of $50. ADCNR is pleased to offer this attractive license plate to the public, especially since a distinctive license plate must go through a challenging approval process before it can be produced.

The Alabama Department of Revenue (ADOR) currently requires 1,000 commitments, within a one year period, to ensure a distinctive license plate has adequate support before production can begin. This process requires the completion of a “Commitment to Purchase” application and an advanced payment of the $50 annual fee. ADCNR staff realized the difficulty of asking 1,000 potential supporters to purchase the “Freshwater Fishing” license plate before it was available. In order to overcome this obstacle, ADCNR needed to develop a source of funding, since state funds could not be utilized for this purpose. These funds would be used to pay each $50 distinctive license plate fee for interested individuals. This source of funding would also need to be substantial, since the cost of reaching the commitment goal totaled $50,000. For this reason, ADCNR approached Alabama Power Company (APC) for assistance through a process known as hydropower dam relicensing.

APC operates the Martin Dam Hydropower Project under a license issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The process to renew a hydropower license is often complex and requires several years of studies, meetings, and negotiations with resource agencies and the public. During this process, FERC requires the licensee (APC) to evaluate project impacts to aquatic resources, including fish. One issue typically evaluated during hydropower dam relicensing is the loss of fish due to entrainment and turbine mortality. Entrainment is a term used to describe fish entering a hydropower dam through the turbine intake trash screens, which often results in mortality due to water turbulence or actually being struck by the turbines.

There are reasonable arguments on both sides of the issue regarding a hydropower utility company’s liability for these losses. Rather than debating the issue and having FERC render a decision, ADCNR and APC agreed to search for an idea that would have a positive influence on Alabama’s aquatic resources. After negotiations, it was agreed that APC would provide mitigation funds to ADCNR to compensate for the estimated losses of game fish stocked into Lake Martin. In previous negotiations on this issue, for the Coosa and Warrior River Hydropower Projects, it was agreed that mitigation funds would be utilized for aquatic habitat enhancement activities. This particular agreement will benefit the resource and anglers for 30 years (license term); however, in the negotiations concerning the Martin Project, ADCNR was looking for an even longer lasting impact.

With the approval of Commissioner Gunter Guy, Jr., ADCNR presented APC with the concept of fish entrainment mitigation funds being used for the promotion of the new “Freshwater Fishing” distinctive license plate. APC officials considered this idea and recognized the potential long-term value of this vision to Alabama’s aquatic resources. It was therefore agreed that APC would provide ADCNR with $150,000 over a six year period, not only to fund the initial requirement of 1,000 commitments in the first year, but to also support future marketing efforts.

After ADCNR had secured funds to assist with this process, the license plate design was developed, and an application packet was submitted to the Legislative Oversight Committee. In May 2013, the “Freshwater Fishing” distinctive license plate was approved and the clock began ticking on obtaining the 1,000 commitments.

Prior to kicking off a promotional campaign to begin obtaining commitments, a substantial amount of planning and preliminary work had to be completed. Numerous internal meetings were held in order to formulate a plan to move forward. A decision was made to offer two options for the first 1,000 vehicle owners to commit to purchase the “Freshwater Fishing” distinctive license plate: 1) fill out a “Commitment to Purchase” application at their county probate office, pay the $50 fee, and submit their proof of payment receipt to ADCNR for reimbursement or 2) fill out a Power of Attorney form allowing ADCNR to act on their behalf to complete the commitment process and pay the associated $50 fee.

By August 2013, ADCNR employees began promoting the license plate and informing the public of the commitment process. Store managers at Bass Pro Shops, Gander Mountain, and Woods & Waters graciously allowed ADCNR to promote and obtain commitments for the new license plate in their stores. Trade Days at Tannehill State Historical Park was also a very successful venue utilized by ADCNR employees for this purpose.

By December 2013, ADCNR had received enough completed “Commitment to Purchase” applications and Power of Attorney forms to exceed the goal of 1,000; however, ADCNR was not able to submit the applications until February 2014 due to changes in ADOR’s application process. Once the applications were submitted, ADOR ordered the printing of the “Freshwater Fishing” distinctive license plate and they became available to Alabama residents on May 1, 2014.

It was a real challenge for ADCNR to reach this milestone of providing a “Freshwater Fishing” distinctive license plate to the citizens of Alabama. A lot of dedicated and hardworking individuals within ADCNR, ADOR, and APC worked together to make this happen. License plate sales will provide a funding source for fisheries programs and projects as long as vehicle owners choose to invest in the “Freshwater Fishing” distinctive license plate. The Fisheries Section will receive $41.25 from each license plate sold. This revenue will be used to support the following Fisheries Section programs: Habitat Enhancement and Restoration Team (HEART), Alabama’s Aquatic and Biodiversity Center, Aquatic Resources Education Program, Bass Genetic Enhancement Research, Cooperative Sport Fish Disease Research, Aquatic Nuisance Species Management, and Sport Fish Propagation.

If you would like to support ADCNR in this endeavor, please consider purchasing the “Freshwater Fishing” distinctive license plate. Additional information can be obtained at ADCNR’s webpage: http://www.outdooralabama.com/fishing/freshwater/fishtag or ADOR’s webpage: http://revenue.alabama.gov/motorvehicle/freshwater.cfm. For information via phone, contact the ADCNR Fisheries Section office at (334) 242-3471.

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