SPICER -- It will cost more to put walleyes in the boat or pheasants and ducks in the bag, if the state Legislature approves license fee increases being requested by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The requests would raise the annual fishing license fee from $17 to $24, and the small game license fee from $19 to $22. A deer license would increase from $26 to $30.
A variety of new license combinations would be made available, including three-day and 90-day fishing license options, according to Jason Moeckel, fisheries operations supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. He outlined the license fee proposals -- and the DNR's pitch for them -- to members of the West Central Chapter of the Darkhouse Anglers at their meeting at Melvin's in Spicer on Feb. 17.
It's been 10 years without an increase in fishing and hunting license fees, and the effects are being felt, according to Moeckel.
There are about 100 vacancies that have gone unfilled in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, including 22 conservation officer positions.
Fisheries has been the hardest hit, since an increase in federal excise tax revenues tied to the sale of guns and ammunition has helped the wildlife portion of the state's fish and game fund. License fees provide the greatest share of funding for the DNR's conservation work.
Less work is getting done. Fisheries staff used to get out to 750 lakes for work each year, but that's down to 600 now. The DNR used to conduct creel surveys on 30 lakes a year, but now can only manage to do six.
Green Lake is among those where creel surveys used to be conducted to assess the status of the fishery.
"We've got cracks in the foundation," said Moeckel. "We've got to address the situation now."
Had license fees been increased along with the consumer price index, a fishing license that was $4 in 1970 would be $22.56 today, he said.
The state currently ranks 39th in fishing license fees, although Minnesota is fifth as a fishing destination in the nation. Only states with coastal waters rank higher.
If approved, the license fee increase would make it possible to replace some of the vacant field positions, avert closing some field stations, and maintain current fish stocking levels, Moeckel said.
The fisheries budget has the most ground to make up. It's currently on track to spend $4.3 million more than it takes in through license and designated revenues.
The new fees are based on surveys of anglers and hunters, and are designed to keep the "cost of entry" affordable for young people; provide a "customer friendly" license system; and bolster sales to the growing numbers of "casual" anglers and hunters, according to Moeckel. As our population ages and becomes more urban, the DNR is seeing more people who buy fishing and hunting licenses only every so often, he explained.
Moeckel argued the economic importance of protecting our fishing and hunting resources: Fishing represents a $3 billion a year industry in the state, with two million anglers and 43,812 jobs of all kinds attributed to it. Hunting adds another $552 million a year to the state's economy and represents 11,911 jobs of all types.
And, he described the license free proposal as an investment to assure the quality of Minnesota's fishing and hunting resources for the future.
"We can manage this resource for $17," said Moeckel in reference to the annual fishing license fee. "We can do that. But I don't think you're gonna like it. You won't notice the difference next year. You won't notice the difference the next year after that. But you can bet your grandkids will. They will not experience the quality of fishing you're experiencing right now."
To view the license proposals, go to www.mndnr.gov and find "Hunting and Fishing Heritage Initiative."