It’s certainly not uncommon for state wildlife agencies to bust a move every once in a while that makes you go, huh? But the state of Massachusetts recently launched an unprecedented survey that really has me scratching my head, and has anglers crying foul. A random sampling of licensed saltwater anglers are receiving bribes of $15 to $500 in the mail. If they cash the check, they must also turn in their license for one year and stow the rods until 2013. So why would the federal government do such a thing?

According to this story in the Boston Globe, it has nothing to do with wanting to reduce angler numbers, but is an experiment to find out how valued the sport is to the estimated 1.2 million fishermen and annual visitors. From the story:

The results could be used in variety of ways, officials say, such as to calculate the potential loss to anglers if an oil spill or other environmental disaster halted recreational ocean fishing.

Mailings are going out at random to fishermen who have registered for a 2012 recreational saltwater permit. Five hundred of those letters will include an actual check as an enticement to give up their permit, 700 will receive a hypothetical cash offer, and 700 will be asked how willing they would be to pay an amount other than $10 for their permit. The check amounts differ so officials can gauge the value people put on the right to fish.

Researchers will compare the rates of acceptance between the real offers and the hypothetical queries to evaluate differences between the approaches and to, ultimately, calculate the total dollar value fishermen place on the opportunity to cast their lines.

Naturally, many anglers are skeptical of the experiment dreamed up by NOAA economist Scott Steinbeck.

Rumors about the government’s motives spread among saltwater fishermen once the letters started going out last week. Patrick Paquette, of the Massachusetts Striped Bass Association, said fishermen worry that the results will be used to increase permit rates. He added that the timing was poor, coming just a year after the state first began collecting fees for saltwater fishing.

I’m interested to see how this plays out, but the story already hints that results will be skewed: a Massachusetts wife already tried to turn in her husband’s license for cash, and many non-anglers are buying licenses like lottery tickets hoping to get a check. So how much would it take for you to give up fishing for a year?