Last week, members of the Michigan House Committee on Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation approved three bills regarding commercial hunting and fishing guide rules. 

Currently, Michigan has limited rules for commercial guides. This allows convicted poachers, trespassers or other bad actors to guide hunters and anglers into Michigan’s outdoors, leaving customers vulnerable. This proposed legislation seeks to form a baseline for the commercial guiding industry in the state, including distinct rules for commercial hunting guides (HB 5558), commercial sport fishing guides (HB 5559) and granting authority over other rules for guides to the Natural Resources Commission (HB 5560)

These proposed regulations would restrict individuals who have been convicted of fish and wildlife crimes or any felonies from commercial guiding for three years, require CPR and first aid training and include submission of scientific data to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). New rules are meant to hold liable parties accountable and help inform decisions for policymakers. 

Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), the Michigan Hunting Dog Federation, Michigan Bear Hunters Association, Michigan Trappers and Predator Callers Association and other affiliates, have been strong advocates of this legislation and see a compelling need for some sort of licensing system for commercial guides, said MUCC Executive Director Amy Trotter. 

“We are very glad to see Representatives Howell, Cherry and Wakeman championing these bills,” Trotter said. “These will form a strong foundation for a commercial guiding license system here in Michigan, which is a good first step towards better protecting hunters and anglers who use these services.” 

Commercial outfitting and guiding are historic professions that are heavily rooted in access to public lands and waters. Whether it is guided fishing, skiing, backpacking or hunting trips, there have always been experts willing to share knowledge to those willing to pay. Having land available through the federal and state government for guides has helped to transcend the barrier to entry for those interested in becoming professional guides; however, regulations regarding commercial guiding vary widely. 

Compared to other states, Michigan is currently very relaxed in regulations for guides. As of this writing, the DNR only requires a free permit application process for hunting guides to operate on state-managed public lands. Michigan requires no fees, training or any type of general insurance to lead a guided hunting or inland fishing trip, other than a state inland pilot’s license (watercraft inspection) and commercial use of public boat access sites where applicable. Great Lakes and connecting waters charter boat fishing operations are partially regulated by the US Coast Guard and the state. Other states such as Alaska, Idaho and Maine require an extensive process, including passage of an application exam, a high license fee, first aid certification and in-depth records for every guide. 

These bills outline a new framework of regulations for all commercial hunting and sport fishing guides in the state of Michigan. This legislation would require that all commercial hunting guides possess a valid base license, as well as a newly established guiding license. These new licenses would come at an application cost of $150 for Michigan residents ($300 for non-residents) and would be valid for a period of 3 years – enough to more fully fund the oversight of this programming. All monies collected under this statute (including licenses and penalties) would be deposited in the game and fish protection account.

Hunting

To be eligible for a commercial hunting license, guides must possess a valid CPR training certificate and first aid supplies, hold a valid form of state identification (driver’s license or DNR sportcard) and must not have been convicted of a fish and game violation in the past two or three years (depending on the type of violation specified in statute).

Commercial hunting guides will be required to file an annual report to the DNR detailing the counties where they guided, the species of game pursued, the number of clients hosted, the number of game animals harvested, and any additional biological information requested by the Department. The DNR shall post information regarding the number of applicants, the number of licenses issued and the names of licensees to their website.

Individuals convicted of guiding without a license, or guiding on commercial forestland, will be fined $500 and $1,000 for subsequent offenses. Commercial guides who provide false information to the DNR could be subject to a fine of not more than $500.

Fishing

Requirements for sport fishing guides are similar to those for commercial hunting guides but have a few notable differences. To be eligible for a sport fishing guiding license, individuals must be CPR certified and have first aid supplies, possess valid state identification (driver’s license or MDNR sportcard) and must not have been convicted of a fish and game violation in the past two or three years (depending on the type of violation specified in statute).

Sport fishing guides will be required to submit monthly reports that are to include: counties where the individual acted as a commercial fishing guide, species of fish pursued, number of clients hosted for each trip, hours fished on each trip, number of fish caught and released, number of fish harvested, bodies of water fished on, and any additional information requested by the Department. MDNR shall post information regarding the number of applicants, the number of licenses issued, and the names of licensees to their website.

 Again, individuals convicted of guiding without a license will be fined $500 and $1,000 for subsequent offenses. Commercial guides who provide false information to the Department could be subject to a fine of $500 and the costs of prosecution.

 Exceptions

Certain individuals will be exempt from the aforementioned requirements and will not need to file an application for a commercial hunting or sport fishing guide license. These individuals include:

  • Owners of private land providing assistance to another individual
  • Owners or employees of a game bird hunting preserve or game ranch
  • Agency personnel or non-profit staff promoting activities to recruit, retain or reactivate hunters or anglers
  • Landowners issued an animal damage/nuisance permit
  • Individuals assisting under direct supervision of a licensed commercial guide

Importantly, holders of charter boat licenses will not be charged an application fee but will be required to submit an application and follow the outlined rules and regulations of this statute. Charter boat captains are already required to abide by certain more stringent requirements set by the DNR and the U.S. Coast Guard. 

These three bills passed out of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation and will move to the House Committee on Ways and Means. 

About Charlie Booher

Charlie Booher is a State Conservation Policy Fellow with Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

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