Report 2008-115 Summary - October 2008

Department of Fish and Game: Its Limited Success in Identifying Viable Projects and Its Weak Controls Reduce the Benefit of Revenues From Sales of the Bay-Delta Sport Fishing Enhancement Stamp


Our review of the Department of Fish and Game's (Fish and Game) administration of the Bay-Delta Sport Fishing Enhancement Stamp (fish stamp) program revealed the following:


The mission of the Department of Fish and Game (Fish and Game) is to manage California's diverse fish, wildlife, and plant resources, and the habitats upon which they depend, for their ecological values and for their use and enjoyment by the public. To facilitate this mission, the department deposits in the Fish and Game Preservation Fund (preservation fund) the money collected under the State's Fish and Game Code. The preservation fund's major source of revenue is the sale of hunting and fishing licenses.

State law requiring certain anglers to purchase the Bay-Delta Sport Fishing Enhancement Stamp (fish stamp) became effective on January 1, 2004, and it mandates that revenue generated from sales of the fish stamp be maintained in a separate account within the preservation fund. State law also requires that Fish and Game spend the funds in that account only for activities that promote sportfishing opportunities or that provide long-term, sustainable benefits either to the primary sportfishing population or to anglers in the areas defined as bay-delta regulated waters. These areas encompass the tidal waters of the San Francisco Bay and Delta, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and their tributary rivers to the most downstream dam.

Fish and Game's use of the money collected from fish stamp sales has been limited. The increasing balance in the account into which Fish and Game deposits the money does not benefit those currently paying the fish stamp fee. Although sales of fish stamps began on January 1, 2004, Fish and Game did not consistently begin funding projects using fish stamp revenues until fiscal year 2006-07. Fish stamp sales during fiscal years 2003-04 and 2004-05 totaled $2.9 million, but Fish and Game did not attempt to obtain spending authority or identify any projects to fund during that time, and it funded only three projects during fiscal year 2005-06. The fish stamp advisory committee (committee), which consists of up to nine members appointed by the director of Fish and Game, also has been slow to identify and recommend projects.

Fish and Game had annual spending authority of $386,000 for fiscal year 2005-06 and a total of about $1.8 million for both fiscal years 2006-07 and 2007-08. However, while fish stamp revenues and interest have totaled $8.6 million since the inception of the program in 2004, the amounts approved for project funding (commitments) have totaled only $2.6 million, and actual project and administrative expenditures totaled just $1.6 million through fiscal year 2007-08. As of June 30, 2008, the fish stamp account had an unspent balance of more than $7 million, although a portion was committed to approved projects that have not yet been funded. Thus, individuals who purchase the fish stamp are not obtaining the full benefit of the fees they are required to pay.

Furthermore, Fish and Game lacks adequate controls over the fish stamp program. Accounting records do not clearly identify whether expenditures are for administrative or project costs. With one exception, the accounting system does not allow staff to trace expenditures to a specific project. Although individual project managers attempt to track the costs of projects for which they are responsible, they do not always have complete information because not all expenditures charged to specific fish stamp projects are routed to them for approval. Neither the project managers nor the Fish and Game accounting services branch reconciles to the accounting records the information maintained by project managers. In fact, a reconciliation would be very difficult to complete since the accounting system does not typically identify expenditures by project. As a result, Fish and Game does not have an accurate accounting of either the administrative expenditures or individual project expenditures for the fish stamp program.

Additionally, the periodic reports Fish and Game provides to the committee do not include project expenditures or detailed information on project status. Rather than report the actual expenditures and status of each project as required by law, Fish and Game reports only the amount of funds committed for each project. Moreover, Fish and Game has presented to the committee inaccurate information, including information related to its spending authority. This failure to provide clear information to the committee results in Fish and Game and the committee being less able to recommend appropriate projects to fund and less informed on the status of ongoing projects.

We also identified expenditures that Fish and Game charged inappropriately to the fish stamp account. The law specifying allowable uses of fish stamp revenue is broad, but based on our review of a sample of expenditures, Fish and Game does not ensure that the money is used appropriately. We estimate that during fiscal years 2005-06 through 2007-08, Fish and Game spent more than $201,000 for payroll costs and for goods and services unrelated to fish stamp activities. In addition, we identified an instance in which Fish and Game charged its general fund appropriation for rent that the fish stamp account should have paid. Lastly, Fish and Game did not charge any administrative costs to this account in fiscal years 2003-04 and 2004-05 even though it incurred costs related to the program during those years. Because of Fish and Game's accounting control weaknesses, estimating the amount of administrative costs incurred during that time is difficult; however, at a minimum, Fish and Game incurred costs totaling $18,000 to print the stamps.


To ensure that the fish stamp fulfills its intended benefit, Fish and Game should work with the committee to develop a spending plan that focuses on identifying and funding viable projects and on monitoring revenues to assist Fish and Game in effectively using the fish stamp revenues.

To track and report project costs adequately, Fish and Game should do the following:

To make certain that it provides complete and accurate information to the committee, Fish and Game should do the following:

Fish and Game should reimburse its general fund appropriation for the lease payments that should have been paid from the fish stamp account.

To ensure that employees appropriately charge their time to fish stamp projects, Fish and Game should take these steps:


Fish and Game agrees with our recommendations and states that it is taking action to address them.