By Howard Meyerson
The start of Michigan’s 2014 fishing season is still a couple of weeks away, but if you haven’t been paying close attention you might be surprised when you buy a fishing license this year. Prices have gone up and there are fewer choices.
The state’s hunting, fishing and ORV license program was restructured by the legislature last year and Gov. Rick Snyder signed those changes into law last fall. The new program took effect on March 1, just in time for the new fishing season that opens April 1.
The changes will be good for Michigan. The license program was streamlined and state officials estimate the new fee structure will generate $18.1 million in additional revenue this year for hunting and fishing programs. In light of steady program erosion at the Michigan DNR over the past decade, that’s a good thing and I expect good things to come of it.
State fisheries officials, among other things, are planning to give inland waters more attention. An enhanced inland water focus should have payoffs for those who enjoy bluegills, crappies and walleye as well as species like northern pike, Great Lakes muskies and Great Lakes sturgeon.
COLD WATER HABITAT WORK ON TAP WITH NEW FEES
Michigan anglers are fortunate to have as much trout water as they do, but DNR fisheries staffers say they also intend to direct more effort to cold water habitat work and planning that will benefit species like trout and steelhead.
Some of the specifics they have laid out for the year ahead are to:
• Increase creel surveys on inland lakes and streams;
• Increase the technical assistance available for habitat work on cold-water streams;
• Establish an inland fisheries grant program for habitat management;
• Boost hatchery rearing and stocking efforts by addressing hatchery infrastructure needs;
• Boost the acreage on state game areas and state forests that are managed for wildlife habitat;
• Open additional service centers for the public or boost the hours they stay open; and
• Add conservation officers.
What anglers will find in the season ahead is there will now only be one seasonal resident fishing license. It will allow anglers to fish for any legal species. In the past there were two: a restricted license for everything but trout and salmon, or the all-species license.
The new fishing license will cost $26. It will be $2 cheaper than the former $28 all-species license, but anglers no longer have the option of buying a $15 restricted license as they once did.
A 24-hour fishing license will be $10 rather than $7. A 72-hour license will now be $30 rather than $21. Non-resident all-species fishing licenses will be $76 for the season, up from $42. Seniors will pay $11 a year rather than $11.20.
For some that increase will be unwelcome, and others are likely to view the change with great cynicism, but the legislation that led to it, and the prices that were finally agreed upon, were discussed at length by many in the conservation community last year. They are reasonable and in the middle of the pack compared to other states. And they are still a deal given all that Michigan has to offer anglers. The additional revenues, we have been told, should result in even better and more hunting and fishing opportunities around the state.
Folks who hunt and fish will have the option of buying a hunt/fish combo license. The resident combo license will be $76. The non-resident combo license will be $266. Combination licenses include a base license, a fishing license, and two deer tags.
The base license is the big change this year for hunters. The old $15 small game license is gone. Resident hunters will now be required to buy an $11 base license which will allow them to hunt small game. The base license is required to purchase additional licenses to hunt other species like deer, elk or bear.
Further details about those and other hunting and fishing license choices can be found on the DNR website.
Off-road enthusiasts will also pay more for their licenses which have not increased since 1996. Those now cost $26.25. The revenues will be used to expand and improve the state’s ORV trail system, something riders have been asking for. The license is required to operate an ORV on frozen public lakes, certain county roads, national forest roads and state forest roads in the Upper Peninsula. An additional $10 trail permit is still needed to run on state trails, routes and ORV areas.
No one, of course, likes to have to pay more things, but Michigan’s license fees have not been out of line, nor are they now. If the DNR makes good on all of that it promises for the money, Michigan’s sporting communities, and local communities around the state that benefit from outdoor tourism, only stand to gain.
This column appears on MLive Outdoors.