Jack Montoucet talks about raising hunting and fishing fees 022618

Jack Montoucet, secretary for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, told the Press Club of Baton Rouge on Monday that hunting and fishing fees need to be raised for the first time in 18 years. The plan requires legislative approval, and Montoucet, a former lawmaker, said doing so will be an “uphill battle.”

An effort to increase the cost of Louisiana hunting and fishing licenses advanced Wednesday out of a House committee.

House Bill 687 by Rep. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, would raise basic fishing license fees by 42 percent and the basic hunting license by 33 percent, with a trade off of having fewer licenses. The number of hunting and fishing licenses would drop from 117 to 30 under the proposal and certain fishing and hunting rights would be folded into the new basic licenses.

The House Natural Resources and Environment committee favorably reported the measure to the full House on a vote of 12 to 3.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries wants to counter the department’s financial problems and recoup some of the $65 million the department has lost because of state budget problems since 2009, said Cole Garrett, Wildlife’s chief executive counsel. This is the first recreational fee restructuring since 2000 and will help bring the department’s recreational fee revenue better in line with inflation, he said.

Zeringue’s bill would raise the basic resident fishing license from $9.50 to $13.50 and the basic resident hunting license from $15 to $20. The lifetime resident hunting and fishing license would also increase to $1,000.

Senior discounts for hunting and fishing licenses would also increase beginning in 2024. Seniors turning 65 years old in 2024 would pay 50 percent of any license, while current seniors would be grandfathered into the system and continue paying the $5 rate.

Fees would drop for some licenses. The Louisiana Sportsman’s Paradise license would decrease from $100 to $90 and the residential crab fishing license would go from $15 to $5.

Garrett said license restructuring and the addition of a $5 youth turkey and deer hunting license would generate 45,000 new certified hunters and fishers in the state, bringing in $1.3 million in federal match money. The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries receives no money from the state general fund, and mainly depends on self-generated fees, dedicated funds and federal support to operate, Garrett said.

The department projects the fee changes will bring in an additional $10 million annually.

“This does represent in some cases an increase, but the reality is we’re going from 117 to 30 licenses,” Zeringue said. “It’s going to create efficiencies in the department. This will allow the department to continue to do their great work well into the future.”

The increase became a sticking point for Erath Republican Rep. Blake Miguez and discussion turned testy when he and state Wildlife Secretary Jack Montoucet got into it over the department’s use of Conservation Fund monies.

Miguez said Montoucet and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries were not being transparent with their desire to consolidate offices in Acadiana. Montoucet and the department have made moves to close offices in Opelousas and New Iberia to establish a centralized office in Lafayette.

“Why should we go at this time, in such a depressed state in our economy, and ask them for a fee increase when we still have funds in the conservation fund if you guys do your job correctly,” Miguez questioned.

Montoucet said the department’s Conservation Fund, the department’s primary funding vehicle, would be at “ground zero” by 2021 or 2022 without fee increases and action needs to be taken now to “maintain the level of service we provide.” He also said he should be able to make decisions about running his department.

“You’re the one who has preached about cutting and consolidation, but when it happens in your backyard you don’t want it,” Montoucet said.

Miguez said Montoucet should have given locals the “common courtesy” of coming before the Legislature to verify their plans. He questioned the timing of the bill, but an attempted amendment to temporarily freeze the department’s ability to use Conservation Fund monies for office building construction or purchasing failed in a 13-3 vote.

Voting for increasing license fees (12): Reps. Robert Billiot, D-Westwego; Terry Brown, No Party-Colfax; Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge; Jerry Gisclair, D-Larose; John Guinn, R-Jennings; Chris Leopold, R-Belle Chasse; Rodney Lyons, D-Harvey; Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro; Jim Morris, R-Oil City; Eugene Reynolds, D-Minden; Malinda White, D-Bogalusa; and Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma.

Voting against HB687 (3): Reps. Jean-Paul Coussan, R-Lafayette; Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice; and Blake Miguez, R-Erath.