Like their peers in every state, Mississippi wildlife officials are always looking to increase — or at least protect — their share of federal funding from the Sportfish Restoration and Wildlife Restoration programs.
How much each state gets from the programs is based primarily on the number of hunting and fishing licenses held by both resident and non-resident sportsmen.
So not only does the state benefit on the fees charged directly for each license, it benefits by getting a bigger slice of the federal pie.
We’re talking some pretty big dollars, too. In 2014, Mississippi got $14 million in federal funding — $3.98 million for fishing and $10.47 million for wildlife/hunting.
The importance of the federal funding is magnified when you consider two factors: (1) there has been no resident license fee increase since 1992 and there has been a 17 percent decrease in licenses sold since 2006.
The main obstacle facing wildlife agencies is an aging user group. As rich as the traditions of hunting and fishing are in Mississippi, each generation is falling a little bit further out of touch with those sports.
Hunting and fishing are not recruiting new, younger hunters and anglers to replace those who either retire from their outdoor pursuits or at least pass the age limit — in Mississippi, it’s 64 — when licenses are required.
Once a sportsman reaches age 65, they no longer legally need a license, and if they don’t voluntarily buy one, they no longer count in the process that decides the state’s share of federal funding.
Mississippi offers only a voluntary Senior Sportsman License for fresh-water fishing and all-game hunting for people 65 and over. It sells for $5 and the state averages between 2,500 and 2,900 per year, which do count in the license totals (Mississippi’s Department of Marine Resources does require a $7.29 lifetime license for people aged 65 or older).
It is here that perhaps Mississippi should follow the lead of its neighbors.
Louisiana requires all sportsmen who reached the age of 60 on or after June 1, 2000, to purchase a $5 annual hunting/fishing license.
As reluctant as the Mississippi legislature is to increase license fees or charge its seniors a fee, it might be best to look at Alabama and how it handles its aging user class.
At the age of 64, the last year Alabamans are required to purchase a license, they buy licenses for the same price that never expire, according to Alabama Department of Natural Resources spokesman David Rainer.
“They essentially become a lifetime license that the state can count as a license each year for federal funding purposes,” Rainer said.
Longtime sportsman Tom Gordon, 63, of Jackson likes the Alabama approach, but also understands the Louisiana method.
“Louisiana wins by getting the $5 each year from each senior and getting to count them in the federal programs,” said Gordon, who has only one more license to buy before he becomes age exempt. “But, it doesn’t seem to me that $5 would cover the administration costs.
“I’d pay it, and gladly do it, but seems Alabama may have the best idea, at least as I understand it. It’s actually a brilliant idea to make your last license a lifetime license, since it does not cost the individual senior sportsman a dime, yet it allows the state to continue counting him or her in the federal numbers. I like that idea … a lot.”
For more on the state’s hunting and fishing license decline, see the May edition of Mississippi Sportsman magazine.