State Fishing License Numbers Are Down

GFP says conflict over public water and private landowners is playing a part

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – It’s been nearly 6 months since a controversial issue between fishermen and private land owners came to a head. The state closed off people’s access to public waters on private land. Then, in June, Governor Dennis Daugaard held a special legislative session, and a decision was made to open the lakes back up. But the flip flop is hurting the state’s fishing industry.

When it comes to bringing in folks from outside South Dakota to fish on state waters, the numbers are looking worse than last year.

“We sold 26,702 fishing licenses in 2016, this year just slightly under 25,000,” says Game, Fish and Parks regional supervisor Emmett Keyser. “So roughly about 1,700 and some odd licenses behind sales.”

The cost of these non-residential fishing licenses are $67 each, so the loss is adding up: $114,000.

“It’s a chunk of change,” says Keyser.

And that’s just one category of fishing permits. Game, Fish and Parks is also seeing a decrease in resident one-day licenses and a combination of fishing and hunting licenses offered.

“We just don’t like to see that loss in opportunity,” says Keyser. “It’s an important part of our economy, it’s second to the agriculture industry.”

Keyser says this is likely due to confusion as to where people are allowed to fish.

“What’s closed here is cross hatched, it’s up in the area of Fort Sisseton state park,” says Keyser as he points to a map on the GFP website that shows the closed waters.

A bill passed this summer opened up all unofficial water to anglers. But it also allowed landowners to close off lakes that have formed on their private properties, if they wanted to.

“Some are concerned that opening their body of water to public use might result in an overtake of the fish population,” says Keyser.

So far, only 4 landowners have decided to close theirs off.

“It’s actually not been as many landowners as some were concerned about,” says Keyser.

The department is also working with landowners to keep the waters open, meaning the majority of the water in South Dakota is fair game.

“We’re still looking to develop some access sights with landowners, and certainly are open to having discussions with landowners,” says Keyser. “We’ve actually developed some guidelines in terms of the payment rate that we would be able provide in terms of the lease of those access sights.”

With the new legislation, Keyser is hoping fishermen and women will test the waters once again.

“This is a good starting spot and I think it will be a work in progress as time goes by,” he says. “Bait shops, the equipment places, restaurants, gas stations, motels, we just hate to see those guys lose revenue.”

One thing Game, Fish and Parks still has to work out with the new legislation is a buoy system. The department is figuring out what type of buoys they should use, and how many should be laid out when marking the closed off waters.

“Our staff has been researching different types of buoys, looking at the visibility, and of course cost is a big factor as well.” Says Keyser.

GFP says they want to make it very obvious for sportsmen to know where they can and cannot fish.

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