Visitors to South Dakota have three options to legally fish in South Dakota. They can pay $92 for an annual license, $62 for a three-day license, or $16 for a one-day license. The annual and three-day licenses include a $25 nonresident Habitat Stamp, sales of which to fishers, hunters, and trappers generate around $5 million a year that the state uses to restore and improve wildlife habitat so we have more fish to hook and cook.
Many visitors may not be aware of the good those Habitat Stamp dollars do. They just look at the final price tag and realize that they can buy three one-day licenses for $48 and get the same amount of fishing as they can for a $62 three-day license. They save $14, which will get them a 12-pack of Miller Lite and a can of beans at Dakotamart.
Those price savings accrue only the first visit; people only have to buy one Habitat Stamp per year; on subsequent visits, three-day anglers pay $37 for their long-weekend licenses. So for two three-day fishing trips, six one-day licenses cost $96 and two three-day licenses cost $99. Come a third time, and the one-day license trick no longer saves money.
But the state is losing a revenue opportunity on those one-time visitors, who should share our interest in protecting and enhancing habitat. The Game Fish and Parks Commission is trying to work up the courage to apply a more sensible “buy more save more” pricing scheme to its non-resident fishing licenses, but they just can’t work up the courage to do so:
Amid debates about tourism and the fairness of fees for in-state anglers vs. out-of-staters, the Game, Fish and Parks Commission postponed its anticipated vote Thursday in Madison on the elimination of non-resident, one-day licenses.
“I think it’s a good move to step back,” said Commission Chair Stephanie Rissler.
The commission had already postponed the decision in October to allow for more public comment, after a rush of comments arrived prior to that meeting.
“And to no surprise, we did get more dialogue,” said GF&P Wildlife Director Tom Kirschenmann.
Sixty-four comments about the proposal were submitted to the commission, with the majority in opposition to eliminating the one-day license.
GF&P staff, after hearing from the tourism and outdoor-guiding industry and others concerned about the policy change, advised the commission to table the decision in favor of a more comprehensive review [Joshua Haiar, “Tourism and Fairness Concerns Delay Decision on Fishing-License Oddity,” South Dakota Searchlight, 2023.11.02].
Hey, GF&P Commission! This shouldn’t be hard. Just require every angler to buy a Habitat Stamp. The one-day anglers from Minnesota and elsewhere would pay $41 for their first dip in our ponds, and their subsequent one-day fishing trips would cost only $16 a pop. If you think one-day fishers don’t need to pay as much toward preserving the habitat that they enjoy, then create a one-day Habitat Stamp charging nonresidents $10 a pop.
Sure, there may be some tourism incentive to hand out one-day licenses for cheap. But the state’s pricing scheme for fishing licenses should not encourage people to avoid paying their fair share to support the habitat that makes their trip worthwhile. Strike the one-day discount.