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Comments by Kim: When more means less

Game and Fish increases tourney fees

Game and Fish has made an administrative rule change that removes the $5,000 cap on conservation fees assessed fishing tournaments. The change won’t affect the majority of fishing tournaments in North Dakota, but it will have a significant impact, even prohibitive, on a few.

All permitted fishing tournaments in North Dakota are required to set aside 10% of their entry fee money as a conservation fee for holding a tournament. The fee can be designated by tournament organizers for a preferred purpose, such as contributing to local boat dock improvements or youth events. For many of those tournaments 10% of the entry fees is less than $5,000, so they won’t be affected unless they grow in size in the number of boats or increase entry fees.

The state’s largest annual fishing tournament is the Governor’s Walleye Cup, which is headquartered in Garrison with boats launched out of Fort Stevenson State Park on nearby Lake Sakakawea. The Governor’s Cup was not held this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, it was held in 2019. To fish competitively for two days a field of 260 teams paid $300 apiece for a total of $78,000.

Under 2019 guidelines the Governor’s Cup paid the maximum $5,000 conservation fee to Game and Fish. In 2021, assuming the cap removal remains in place, the Governor’s Cup conservation fee would increase by $2,800. While that amount doesn’t figure to be a game breaker for the Governor’s Cup, it almost certainly means the tournament committee will make some cuts somewhere to soften the impact of the increase.

Across Lake Sakakawea the Dakota Walleye Classic out of Beulah will have to deal with an increased fee as well, although not so much as the Governor’s Cup. The Dakota Walleye Classic entry fee is $350, more than what is charged by the Governor’s Cup but the field is smaller at 180 teams. Nevertheless, the new administrative rule change will cost the Dakota Walleye Classic an additional $1,300 per year. What impact the increased fee with have on the event remains to be seen.

While the above mentioned fishing tournaments will almost certainly make adjustments to compensate for the fee increase and the additional funds will benefit certain organizations or projects, there’s other considerations too. Primarily, national events that generate revenue for communities and focus a spotlight on North Dakota.

On Sept. 11-12 of this year the National Walleye Tour brought 120 boats to the Lake Sakakawea stop on the NWT. The 120 professional anglers from throughout the United States and their co-anglers provided a welcome boost of economic impact on the city of Garrison.

Now, the question is, will they ever come back, anywhere in the state, faced with the increased conservation fee? I think the answer is obvious – no. Here’s why.

The September NWT event on Lake Sakakawea generated $227,200 in entry fees from anglers and co-anglers. They paid the maximum $5,000 conservation fee. However, under the new administrative rule, that fee would jump dramatically to $27,200.

Professional fisherman Johnnie Candle of Devils Lake, who has fished major events across the country for several years, calls it “a mess” and says national tournaments will not come to North Dakota and pay that kind of money, adding that “there’s plenty of fish to catch in other parts of the country.”

It would be far less expensive too. For example, neighboring Minnesota charges large fishing contests, those with more than 50 boats, $560 per day. South Dakota does not even charge a fee for fishing tournaments.

A new walleye circuit based on head-to-head fishing has already announced it will make a stop at Stump Lake in North Dakota next year. The field is limited to 32 boats, which may or may not happen, but a full field at $3,000 entry fee per boat is $96,000. That means $9,600 to Game and Fish, an amount that is almost certain to make tournament officials think twice about coming to North Dakota.

Game and Fish says that, in the interest of fairness, “ALL tournaments should pay the full 10%” and that there is a limit of two national tournaments per year allowed in the state. Those tournament though, are major events that generate national publicity and insert countless dollars into local economies.

It certainly seems that the economic boost resulting from national fishing tournaments will be lost to host communities such as Devils Lake, Garrison and Bismarck. Why would those events come to North Dakota, given the big increase in fees, when they can go elsewhere for much less? I doubt they will. It appears more will mean less for our state.

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