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Our view: Go forward with increase on licenses

Herald editorial board

There are 440 waterways managed by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Of those, only about a dozen have confirmed aquatic nuisance species, such as zebra mussels, silver carp or Eurasian milfoil.

That's just 3 percent of the state's waters.

Good news, right?

In a way, yes. North Dakota so far has been fortunate to avoid widespread infestation of these nasty water pests. Yet danger lurks — zebra mussels, for example, have been confirmed and are becoming more abundant in the Red River. According to a state report released in December, silver carp are moving upstream in the James River and curlyleaf pondweed is present in the Missouri and Sheyenne rivers.

Zebra mussels tend to get the most attention, since they can be costly to infrastructure, such as water intake systems. Without action, it's inevitable that zebra mussels will make their way westward.

A proposal in the state Legislature could help. Sunday, the Herald reported that lawmakers are considering a plan to raise fees for fishing licenses and other hunting-related permits, allowing the Game and Fish Department to stockpile a war chest for what certainly will be an ongoing and important battle in coming years.

At present, the agency dedicates approximately $500,000 per biennium to its efforts against aquatic nuisance species. The proposal in the Legislature — primarily sponsored by Republican Sen. Dave Oehlke — would raise about $2 million per biennium.

For Oehlke, these issues must hit home. He represents the city of Devils Lake, which relies heavily on the economic impact of the local fishery of the same name. Aquatic nuisance damage to Devils Lake could cost that region millions of dollars annually in economic impact.

Statewide, anglers spent approximately $790 million in North Dakota during the 2017-18 season, according to Game and Fish numbers.

Oehlke, as quoted by Forum News Service, said Senate Bill 2293 "would be a start to get more control over the potential for aquatic nuisance species that travel in our state."

To us, the key word is control. Not much can be done about the aquatic nuisance species that already have been found in North Dakota waters. But with extra dollars dedicated to the fight, the state can possibly control the spread of those species.

Lawmakers suggest a $3 surcharge for resident fishing licenses and a $6 surcharge for nonresident fishing and hunting licenses. They also are considering a $15 aquatic-nuisance fee for out-of-state boaters and a $5 fee for in-state boaters. Accommodations are being made for certain groups, such as seniors and disabled anglers.

Fee increases always come with some sort of controversy, but already the North Dakota Sportfishing Congress is throwing its support behind the proposal. A representative for the organization has said the extra few dollars won't be too big of a burden.

We agree. A $3 or $6 surcharge for an annual fishing license is a fair price to pay if outdoorsmen hope to preserve North Dakota waters for future generations.

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