Tourism and fairness concerns delay decision on South Dakota fishing license oddity

November 3, 2023

Joshua Haiar

MADISON — It’s still cheaper for visitors from other states to buy three one-day South Dakota fishing licenses than one three-day license, at least for now.

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.

Joshua Haiar with South Dakota Searchlight says 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.

In South Dakota, non-residents can choose from three fishing licenses: one-day, three-day and annual.

Since 2020, there’s been an uptick in one-day license sales.

Anglers and hunters are required to purchase a Habitat Stamp ($10 for residents, $25 for non-residents) in addition to some of their licenses. Revenue from the stamp supports wildlife habitat conservation and restoration, and hunting and fishing access.

Habitat Stamps are not required with a one-day, non-resident fishing license, which costs $16. Habitat Stamps are required for three-day and annual licenses, the prices of which are $62 and $92, respectively, including the stamp.

A cost-conscious, non-resident angler can buy three one-day licenses for a total of $48 — $14 less than the three-day license. In 2021, one non-resident purchased 17 one-day fishing licenses, according to the GF&P.

Some resident anglers find that unfair.

Kerry Stiner, of Burke, wrote that in boat-ramp parking lots, “I think there are more out-of-state vehicles than SD vehicles.”

“I also see them bring their $90,000 boats and $100,000 pickups, so I don’t think a few extra dollars for licenses is going to affect anybody,” Stiner wrote to the commission.

Justin Allen, of Pierre, expressed a similar opinion.

“If NRs [non-residents] want to enjoy SD resources they should fund the programs through license fees like everyone else,” he wrote to the commission.

Kirschenmann said Habitat Stamp revenue helps pay for boat docks, access roads, fish hatcheries and the creation and maintenance of fish habitat.

“It’s one of those resources for us to use as an agency, as a commission, to provide the programs and services that we do,” he told the commission.

GF&P staff explained during previous commission hearings that eliminating the one-day license could generate an additional $500,000 to $1.3 million in revenue for the department by forcing out-of-state anglers to purchase more expensive licenses.

Kirschenmann explained during the October commission hearing that the department wasn’t requesting the addition of the Habitat Stamp to one-day licenses, because that would require a law change by the Legislature.

Secretary Kevin Robling told South Dakota Searchlight on Thursday that the department is not asking the Legislature to change the law.

It remains unclear when the commission will revisit the topic or what alternative solutions might be proposed.

Tourism representatives argue that the availability of short-term licenses is vital for attracting visitors, especially those making impromptu trips to South Dakota’s lakes and rivers. Additionally, Kirschenmann said some resident anglers have family from out of state that don’t fish regularly, but are happy to buy a one-day license.

“A one-day fishing license for friends and family that may not be dedicated fishermen is a necessity,” wrote Todd Martell, of Pierre, in a submitted comment. “$62 for one day of fishing with a three-day license and habitat fee will cause people to not participate; a slight increase in the cost of a one-day license would be more appropriate.”

Dennis Block of Sioux Falls was more blunt in his comments.

“The one-day non-resident proposal is, in my opinion, asinine!” He wrote to the commission. “Who in their right mind would purchase a 3-day license for $62!?!”

Kirschenmann said the decision’s postponement indicates the department’s commitment to public feedback in decision-making.