House Bill 687 is scheduled to be read Thursday afternoon in the floor of the Louisiana House of Representatives.
If passed there, it faces the scrutiny of a Louisiana Senate Committee, then the Senate floor.
Then, if passed — and it's sure to be signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards — the state’s outdoorsmen will have to pay more for their hunting and fishing licenses.
But, said the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Cole Garrett, the agency’s Legislative Liaison, recreational fishermen and hunters will have a streamlined licenses menu — the bill trims the current 117 separate and distinct licenses to 30 options for sportsmen — that could add more than $10 million in direct revenues and $1.3 million from directed federal funds into the LDWF’s annual operating budget.
It’s here where LDWF secretary Jack Montoucet interjected the singular fact that this agency does not receive funding from the state’s general fund, and that it’s been 18 years since the agency has asked for license-fee increases.
Montoucet and LDWF undersecretary Bryan McClinton said the agency faces serious financial problems as early as 2022 when the Conservation Fund will run dry. The fund is the depository for a large portion of recreational licenses, and is the agency chief source for its annual funding.
Since introduced in early March, the bill has been amended 29 times, mostly related to changes in specific wording in the original bill.
And, Tuesday, Rep. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, promised there will No. 30.
Responding to issues raised about similar increases to commercial fishing and other commercial activities under the LDWF’s purview, Zeringue said he will offer an amendment stipulating the effective date for recreational increases hinges on commercial licenses increases set to be heard in the 2019 Legislative session.
Today, if passed, the recreational increases will not be effective until June 1, 2019.
Briefly stated, the bill raises freshwater resident basic fishing license from $9.50 to $13.50, and Garrett said this removes separate licenses for activities like using slat traps, crawfish traps and wire nets, and includes them in the new license structure.
“For a $4 increase in the basic license, an angler is receiving $95 in privileges (from the old license structure),” Garrett said.
The combination of freshwater-saltwater fishing fees goes from $22.50 to $26.50, and allows the use of up to a 25-foot trawl and the use of oyster tongs, which, under the old structure, cost anglers $110.
Other parts of the bill include:
- Raising basic hunting fees from $15 to $20, and includes resident trapping privileges, and raises a big-game license — a “deer hunting” license in the new plan, from $14 to $20, and includes bow and primitive-weapons hunting, which currently costs an additional $21;
- Jumps the resident turkey hunting license from $5.50 to $20, with $7.50 of the increase dedicated to the Wild Turkey Fund;
- Takes the resident waterfowl license (stamp) from $5.50 to $10 (hunters need the basic hunting license), with $7.50 of the increase dedicated to the Duck Stamp Fund;
- Drops the cost of an all-inclusive Sportsman’s Paradise license from $100 to $90 which includes all recreational activities;
- Retains a $5 Senior Hunting and Fishing license fee for anyone reaching age 60 between June 1, 2000 and May 31, 2019, then another Senior License fee of one-half the cost of a resident license for anyone reaching age 65 on or after June 1, 2024, while retaining no-fee activities for those who were 60 years old before June 1, 2000;
- Institutes a $5 Youth License for hunting deer, turkey or seeking to participate in a youth lottery hunt, a move which further will recover as much as $39 per license from federal funding sources.
“It brings us more in line with the surrounding states,” Montoucet said, “and, it allows us to operate past 2022 when (projections are) the Conservation Fund will go to zero.
Montoucet, who resigned his State House seat to take the LDWF’s top job, said he and his staff have worked to reduce expenditures in the past 18 months, that consolidating offices in the Acadiana area, including closing the district office in New Iberia, and reworking other contracts have reduced some budgetary problems, but there’s more work ahead to make the agency viable in the long term.
“We know the mood of the Legislature is not to add fees or taxes, but we need licensing restructure for the Conservation Fund out the next 15-20 years,” Moutoucet said.
"We need 70 votes to pass (the House)," Zeringue said. "It's close."
A rose with thorns
All in not rosy in the push for support from the recreational sector: CCA Louisiana executive director David Cresson said the CCA Board and some in the organization’s general membership balk at the Edwards’ administration’s lack of support for recreational issues on the regional and national levels. Cresson cited the agency’s lack of support for two CCA-backed construction of artificial reefs in coastal waters and recreational issues in Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council votes, and Edwards move to ignore CCA recommendations for nominations by Edwards for the state’s soon-to-be-vacant recreational seat on the GMFMC.
Cresson said the CCA Board believes all these moves to be “taxation without representation. When the coffers start to run dry, (state government) comes running to the recreational (sector). We’ve been program partners (with LDWF), but now there are opportunities lost and programs have dried up and we’re losing representation, and yet (the state) called on us for an increase. Where all this leaves us, we just don’t know.”
The administration will ask for support from the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission during Thursday’s 1 p.m. commission meeting in Baton Rouge. It’s one of several fisheries-related items on a full agenda.