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Virtual Game and Fish: Fishing tourney fees, electronic posting

Contentious issues at Game and Fish online Advisory Board meeting

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department conducted on-line Advisory Board meetings this past Monday and Tuesday. The virtual meetings were deemed necessary due to coronavirus concerns.

Viewers heard from several members of Game and Fish. The meetings were opened by Director Terry Steinwand. At Monday’s meeting, which was for four western regions of the Advisory Board, Steinwand applauded members of various divisions of Game and Fish for continuing to get work done despite COVID-19.

Steinwand cited work completed by the Fisheries Division despite coronavirus restrictions, calling the situation faced by Game and Fish “unprecedented.” He then turned his attention to electronic posting.

“This has really been a contentious issue in the legislature for year,” stated Steinwand.

A pilot program for electronic posting was conducted earlier this year in Slope, Ramsey and Richland counties. Landowners participating in the study were still required to use signs to post their land as has been the long-time rule in North Dakota. Steinwand said a result of the study was that landowners found electronic posting very easy to use.

Bills regarding electronic posting are expected to be considered in the upcoming legislative session. Among them, said Steinwand, is one to consider two more years of pilot study in all 53 counties in the state. A second bill will seek to actually implement electronic posting in all counties in 2021.

Greg Power, fisheries division chief, opened his presentation by telling of upgrades underway at fish cleaning stations across the state.

“It will be new equipment and will take a couple of years to complete,” said Power.

He noted that aquatic nuisance species, namely zebra mussels, were sort of a good news-bads news scenario. The bad news being that zebra mussels were discovered in Lake LaMoure, the good news is that no other infestations were found anywhere in the state.

Power then turned his attention to the issue of conservation fees being charged for fishing tournaments. Since 1984 10% of fishing tournament entry fees has been required to be dedicated to a conservation project, such as boat ramps or docks, up to a maximum of $5,000.

However, an administrative rule change enacted recently by Game and Fish removed the $5,000 cap, which greatly increases the cost of hosting major fishing tournaments in the state. While the rule change will not affect most annual tournaments in the state, it will have a big impact on national-type events that provide thousands of dollars of economic impact to host sites.

“It’s an issue of balance and fairness,” said Power. “Only 5 to 7 tournaments will be affected.”

The news has already caused one national circuit to pull a scheduled tournament out of North Dakota. The Head To Head walleye series had Stump Lake on its 2021 schedule but has announced it will now find an alternative site outside of North Dakota. The new policy means the Head To Head event would have had to pay Game and Fish $9,600 rather than the previous cap limit of $5,000.

Power did not address the economic impact of large fishing tournaments on host communities in the state or hint that any changes to the policy would be forthcoming.

Greg Link, conservation and communications division chief, talked about a “practical pathway through the pandemic” for hunter education in 2021. Each year up to 5,000 hunter education certificates are issued by Game and Fish. This year, because of COVID-19 restrictions, in-person classtime was interrupted and a number of temporary hunter education certifications were issued.

The education approach for 2021, said Link, will have a traditional classroom course where possible and if the student chooses to attend, with pandemic restrictions. However, added Link, he thought hunter education would utilize an “on-line home study course as our primary means.”

Wildlife Division Chief Jeb Williams lamented having to conduct an Advisory Board meeting via computer, saying he preferred “regular district meetings with good conversation.”

Early data returns from the recent deer gun seasons, said Williams, shows a harvest success rate of 69%. He thanked hunters and landowners for providing information about outbreaks of epizootic hemmhoragic disease, or EHD, noting that his department will “obviously be closely monitoring” the situation in effected areas. EHD is fatal to infected deer.

In response to questions on deer baiting restrictions in place to limit possible spread of chronic wasting disease and whether or not those restrictions might be lifted, Williams responded, “I don’t ever see going backwards in our baiting ban.”

Williams said his department is currently working on a 5-year plan for deer season goals.

“I don’t know what it will look like. We’re striving for above 75,000 licenses for the next five years,” said Williams.

Just over 69,000 deer licenses were available in North Dakota this year.

Williams said that the recent bighorn sheep season resulted in the first, second and fifth largest rams ever harvested in the state.

“We can actually manage for mature and trophy animals,” remarked Williams. “That’s our goal for bighorn sheep.”

Limited bighorn numbers in the state have been rebounding nicely since an outbreak of pneumonia took a toll on the herd.

Game and Fish Advisory Board meetings are held in the spring and fall of each year.

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