What HB 1151 will mean for us

More public funds are needed to continue and increase the raising and stocking of freshwater fish for Mississippi’s public waters. MDWFP runs the North Mississippi Fish Hatchery at Enid raising millions of fingerlings from hybrid stripes to Magnolia crappie.

A look at the proposed increase in the price of hunting and fishing licenses

Did you know that zero tax dollars goes into the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks? I didn’t — until today.

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks is the state agency that manages and regulates our natural resources, and enforces game and fish laws.

And, from a revenue point of view, they are completely dependent upon you and me to buy hunting and fishing licenses.

Recently, MDWF’s Larry Pugh informed me of some important proposed legislation — House Bill 1151 — that would have a direct impact on hunters and fishermen in Mississippi if ultimately approved.

“It has been over 20 years since we’ve had a (hunting and fishing license) price adjustment,” Pugh said.

From the get-go, I must tell you that I no longer pay annual license fees. Being a senior citizen does have some advantages.

One of them is the resident senior exempt/all-game hunting and freshwater fishing license. You should hope to live and fish long enough to get one of these.

As I understand it, a one-time $5 processing fee sets me up for the rest of my fishing days.

But, like many of you, I paid for a license every year after I became old enough to have to, and I haven’t begrudged or worried about it, ever.

You and I know that it costs something to maintain the public’s ability to get on the lake today or to shoot at a dove or a deer on public land. It’s one price we pay — and gladly, in my opinion — to call ourselves “sportsmen” or “outdoorsmen” or “deer hunters” or “crappie fishermen” here in Mississippi.

I’ve had a unique insight, perhaps, into the operations of the MDWFP. As president of the country’s largest crappie club for many years, I’ve had numerous coordinated events with MDWFP support.

I am not the current Magnolia Crappie Club president, and this opinion and endorsement has nothing to do with MCC’s take on the matter. This is personal, friend. I’m just telling you that I’ve worked with the folks at our state agency for years, and I’ve always found them to be professional, helpful and supportive of our needs to hold crappie tournaments on public Mississippi waters.

Well, there was that one time some 20 or more years ago at Lake Washington — our club’s first tournament there — when the game wardens showed up in force — three two-man teams.

Hey, those law enforcement fellows hit the water intent on finding something wrong in those tournament boats.

At the time we tied a red ribbon to the trolling motor of every tournament boat. Don’t know why — it was a bad idea.

I got checked three times that day. When I complained to the third game warden, he really went to town trying to find something for which he could write a ticket.

I tried to explain that the last boats he needed to focus on were our tournament boats — that we policed ourselves much stronger than the State of Mississippi ever could.

But, other than that, my association with the MDWFP has been great.

MCC participated for many years in the department’s Katfishing for Kids program. We have done lake restoration work with their help — specifically at Eagle Lake.

And MCC participates in their annual Got Fish? program.

And I was asked early on to provide some input on the still pending “commercial fishing for game fish” issue.

Point is, I think I’ve had as much or maybe more contact with the workings of this state agency than the average Joe.

And, again, with a few exceptions — one being that I personally would like to see them beef up their enforcement of fish limits at places like Eagle and Washington lakes — I really appreciate how they support Mississippi fishermen and hunters.

Pugh tells me the additional license revenue would be used toward the following:

• Provide adequate and consistent wildlife and fisheries law enforcement in all 82 counties.

• Improve public shooting opportunities.

• Stock more fish in Mississippi’s public waters.

• Build new boat ramps on public waters.

• Improve wildlife habitat on public hunting lands.

• Make private lands more accessible to hunters.

• Improve Mississippi’s public lands and waters through consistent restoration, enhancement and management.

• Educate and connect the next generation of Mississippians to our lands, waters and wildlife.

• Provide additional matching funds so partnership/grant opportunities are maximized.

Sounds like a plan to me.

Earlier I said the MDWFP depends solely on license sales to fund themselves, and that’s not exactly true.

You see a majority of the money used to run this state agency comes from federal grants for which there is a 75/25 ratio working in our favor. That federal money is generated as an excise tax on hunting and fishing equipment and supplies.

Yes, it is your money. Yes, you paid a hidden tax when you bought that box of bullets or that new crappie pole.

And, to get it back and working for us in our state, additional license revenue means we qualify for additional federal money.

Stated another way: If your license goes up $8 next year, the MDWFP will bring in a total of $32 additional revenue — $8 from your license increase and $24 from additional federal grant money.

Sorry, but I don’t know the total dollars we’re playing with here. I’ve asked, but at the time of this writing, I havdn’t gotten a response.

We know it’s several million, right? So, in round numbers, for every million dollars in increased license sales revenue HB 1151 generates, a total of $4 million dollars will be going into the sorely needed pile of cash.

I’m still for it.

You should direct your take on the matter to Rep. Scott Bounds — sbounds@mail.house.state.ms.us — the author of House Bill 1151.

Additional input can also be directed toward Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Sen. Phillip Moran.

In my opinion, we are fortunate to have such a strong, professional state agency looking out for our outdoor interests. I think the MDWFP does an outstanding job, and, come on, it’s been 20 years since the last price bump.

Let’s get behind this so we can keep catching them as big as they grow for years to come.

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