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Conference committee to tackle North Dakota fishing tournament bill

House Bill 1538 is among the last of this year’s slate of outdoors bills still to be decided in the North Dakota Legislature.

Boats converge on Devils Lake during a walleye tournament in this undated photo.
Contributed/Devils Lake Tourism

BISMARCK – A House-Senate conference committee in the North Dakota Legislature is scheduled to tackle differences over a bill that would revamp fees and policies for fishing contests in North Dakota and establish them in Century Code.

Currently, the Game and Fish Department sets tournament fees and regulations as part of its administrative rule process.

The House in early March passed an amended version of House Bill 1538 that called for eliminating the 10% conservation project fee the North Dakota Game and Fish Department charges fishing tournament organizers and replacing it with a permit fee of no more than $2,500, or $75 for charity events run by a nonprofit group.

The original version of the bill had called for replacing the conservation fee with a permit fee of no more than $250 for a tournament and $75 for a charity event run by a nonprofit.

The bill also did away with payback requirements for charity fundraiser tournaments that tournament organizers and others said were too restrictive.


Tournament fee proceeds would still go to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department under the bill the House passed, but they would not be specifically earmarked for projects such as boat ramp improvements in communities hosting fishing tournament events.

The House passed the amended bill by a 90-2 vote, but when it crossed to the Senate, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee amended the legislation to include the 10% conservation fee not to exceed $2,500 for all tournaments except those sponsored by nonprofit groups.

The bill then passed the Senate by a 34-13 vote, but the House refused to concur with the amended version of the legislation, setting the stage for the upcoming conference committee meeting. The meeting originally was scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday, April 13, but has now been rescheduled for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 18. Conference committee members are Reps. Matthew Ruby, R-Minot, chairman; Jeremy Olson, R-Arnegard; Anna Novak, R-Hazen; and Sens. Greg Kessel, R-Belfield; Keith Boehm, R-Mandan; and Dale Patten, R-Watford City.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department, the North Dakota Sportfishing Congress and the North Dakota Wildlife Federation all opposed HB 1538.

The bill results from a change the North Dakota Game and Fish Department made in October 2020, which removed an administrative rule that capped the conservation project fee at $5,000, instead requiring organizers to pay 10% of entry fee proceeds back to the department.

“The rationale for the elimination of the $5,000 cap was the belief that all tournaments, regardless of size, should pay the fixed rate of 10% as a matter of fairness,” Fisheries Chief Greg Power wrote in a March 31, 2021, letter to tournament organizers.

HB 1538 is among the last of this year’s slate of outdoors bills still to be decided. The Senate earlier voted down HB 1151, another significant piece of outdoors legislation, which would have prohibited the Game and Fish Department from implementing bans on hunting deer over bait in areas with confirmed cases of chronic wasting disease.

The House approved the measure by a vote of 76-18 but Senate lawmakers ultimately rejected the legislation by a vote of 21-26.


According to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s legislative update, the only active outdoors legislation remaining is HB 1014 , which would provide $15 million for the Outdoor Heritage Fund. The bill passed the House by a 84-9 vote. A Senate committee on Wednesday, April 12, amended the legislation, which then passed the full Senate by a 44-2 vote. The House referred to concur, and a conference committee has been appointed to work out differences in the legislation.

For a complete rundown on the status of outdoors legislation in North Dakota, check out the Game and Fish Department website at gf.nd.gov/legislation .

Editor's note: This story was updated to include a rescheduled time and date for the conference committee meeting on HB 1538, and the Senate's action on HB 1014.

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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