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DNR 'crunching the numbers' regarding possible license fee increase

Seven years have passed since Minnesota last raised fishing license fees, and Department of Natural Resources officials are weighing whether to ask for an increase during the current legislative session.

Seven years have passed since Minnesota last raised fishing license fees, and Department of Natural Resources officials are weighing whether to ask for an increase during the current legislative session.

"It's still uncertain at this time. We're still crunching the numbers," said Dave Schad, director of the DNR's Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Typically, the DNR increases hunting and fishing license fees about every six years, just to keep up with rising costs. The last increase came in 2001. Increases usually are in small increments of $2 or $3 on basic licenses.

Currently, a Minnesota resident individual fishing license costs $17. A combination (husband and wife) license costs $25. In Wisconsin, a resident individual fishing license costs $20, and a resident husband-wife combination license costs $31.

Tom Neustrom, a Grand Rapids fishing guide and member of the DNR's Walleye Workshop team, supports the fee increase.

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"I think it's a thing that needs to be done," Neustrom said. "We haven't had an increase in seven or eight years. With all the programs they [DNR employees] are trying to implement, with the increased stocking, the cost of doing business has gone up. They need that additional money."

The agency's budget is looking better than it was just a month ago, Schad said, because of an increase in federal money allocated to the state for fish and wildlife. A license fee increase may not be necessary, he said.

The federal money that comes to states for fishing and wildlife expenses accrues through excise taxes on fishing and hunting gear. Fishing-related monies are called Dingell-Johnson funds, named for the federal legislators who created the excise-tax legislation many years ago. Hunting monies are called Pittman-Robertson funds.

A state's share of those funds can change if its percentage of anglers or hunters grows in comparison to those of other states, Schad said.

Minnesota's Dingell-Johnson allocation recently increased from $11 million to $15 million, Schad said. And the state's share of Pittman-Robertson funds increased from $7 to $9 million per year.

"That's significant," Schad said. "The Game and Fish Fund is in better shape than we thought even a month ago."

The increased funding also will help offset an imbalance in the way the DNR has spent fishing and wildlife money in recent years. That imbalance was cited by a citizens' Budget Oversight Committee in September 2006. The committee discovered that since 2000, the fisheries budget ran about a $12 million deficit, while the hunting budget ran a $17 million surplus. Lumped together, which the funds are, the hunting revenues more than made up for the fisheries red ink.

But in its report, the committee said "the DNR has an implicit ethical obligation to its stakeholders to spend fishing revenues on fishing and hunting revenues on hunting." DNR officials agreed and are working to correct the imbalance, Schad said.

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As the DNR crunches its numbers, it also will have to consider that state Sen. Satveer Chaudhary (DFL-Fridley) wants to introduce legislation that would allow youths to fish without a license until age 18. Currently, youths must have a license at age 16. The change would cost the DNR about $2 million per year, DNR officials estimate.

An increase in some fishing license fees could generate between $2 and $4 million per year, Schad said, depending on which license fees were raised and by how much.

Related Topics: FISHING
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