Nearly 20 years ago, MUCC members recognized the need for regulations and oversight of the (at the time) budding commercial guiding industry in Michigan through our policy resolution process. On September 21, we were pleased to support a package of legislative bills, Senate Bills 1070-1072, that would for the first time provide a consistent regulatory framework and commercial guiding permit for Michigan.

We appreciate the efforts of Senator Dale Zorn and his staff to recognize the need for this legislation and work with us on a well-thought out package. This bill package is still a work in progress and hunters, anglers, trappers, and people working as guides should reach out to Senator Zorn’s office or Amy Trotter at MUCC with ideas to improve the proposed legislation.

Michigan is blessed with more than 4 million acres of state–managed public land, more than 11,000 inland lakes and 36,000 miles of rivers and streams and the greatest diversity of outdoor recreation opportunities in the country. Hunters, anglers and trappers in Michigan contribute more than $80 million of their own money through state license fees to fund fisheries and wildlife management, along with the enforcement of these regulations. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in 2011 hunters, trappers, and anglers spent almost $4.8 billion in Michigan on their outdoor pursuits in total, and $90 billion nationwide.

MUCC.jpgMUCC and several of its statewide affiliate clubs have asked State Senators to consider legislation that would provide a framework to oversee an unrecognized industry in Michigan that also depends solely on our fisheries, wildlife and vast natural resources—commercial guiding.

The US Coast Guard, DNR and the Michigan legislature have created some policies over time that oversee the charter fishing activities on the Great Lakes, but these do not apply on most upstream and inland waters. This requires this industry to submit monthly fishing reports, which has been extremely helpful for not only scientific data collection, but also the promotion and protection of the charter fishing industry. There is also the components of Part 445 inland pilot’s license for charter boats who take passengers for hire, which mainly regulates vessel safety.

Since 2006, inland fishing guides in Michigan have been required to obtain written permission, in the form of a lease to use state-owned public water access sites.  Guides pay an annual Use of Land fee ($100/year), must also provide proof of general liability insurance, and must have the aforementioned state-issued inland pilot’s license or a U.S. Coast Guard captain’s license.  This state land use permit requirement was expanded to hunting guides using state-owned public lands around 2010, but there is no fee or requirements and there is little enforcement. The US Forest Service also has its own requirements for hunting and fishing guides utilizing public land under federal ownership which this bill package would not change.

This proposed legislation would create a fair and consistent framework for commercial hunting and fishing guides operating in Michigan. MUCC believes the requirements for applying for a guiding permit are relatively straightforward, which include:

  • a state fishing or base hunting license;
  • a $150 permit (every 3 years);
  • liability insurance,
  • first aid, and CPR training; and
  • a clean criminal and game and fish violation record (in the last 5 years)

This provides a relatively small barrier of entry for a small business owner, but provides tremendous benefits to their clients, the state, and the fish and wildlife resources.

“Michigan currently does not require any training or general insurance to lead a guided hunting or fishing trip,” said Zorn, R-Ida. “During the past six months, we have partnered with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Michigan United Conservation Club and other groups to develop a fair policy that would help ensure that guides know and comply with laws to protect our natural resources and are focused on providing a safe fishing or hunting experience.”

The bills include certain exemptions, such as for owners or employees of game bird hunting preserves or privately owned game ranches when guiding for their animals under those permits. We also plan to clarify that any non-for-profit endeavor to mentor beginner hunters or anglers would not require a guiding license. There is also a plan to clarify that the sharing of reasonable expenses (gas, food, bait) among friends for a joint hunting or fishing trip does not constitute guiding.

For the first time, this legislation presents an opportunity to clean up the woods and waters of bad actors, who have cast a black eye on guiding as a legitimate business by putting clients in danger and having a weak adherence to fish and game laws. These kinds of situations, though hopefully rare, may be hurting Michigan’s reputation as a destination for hunting and fishing for people from out-of-state, as well as in-state hunters and anglers who engage the services of guides and have no assurance of a quality experience, personal safety, or even an ethical pursuit of game or fish.  At the same time, those who represent themselves as guides in spite of often flagrant violations of our state’s hunting laws and regulations provide fuel for anti-hunters and tarnish the reputation of true sportsmen and women in Michigan.

For example, just this February a “hunting guide” was arraigned on 26 counts of waterfowl and charter operation violations after a long term investigation by the DNR. While he may have lost his boat and his hunting license for his own acts of poaching, there is very little the State of Michigan can do to prevent him from assisting clients and even encouraging clients to harvest over their bag limits in the future. This is (hopefully) an extremely rare case, but what a sound regulatory framework provides is assurances and consistency for the commercial guides that are doing it right and enforcement against those who don’t follow the laws.

This bill package provides enforcement mechanisms for guiding without a permit, providing false information, and failure to provide required reports which would results in costly fines and potentially a loss of the guiding permit. Additionally, all fees and fines would be deposited into the Game and Fish Protection Account to contribute, as all sportsmen and women do, to the oversight and enforcement of these laws.

Most importantly for our members, this provides a necessary protection of the resource. Every permitted guide would be required to file monthly fishing or annual hunting reports that details a tremendous amount of information on their level of effort and harvest. These are all pieces of information not currently collected that would aid our biologists in managing the fish and game populations. The Natural Resources Commission is given the authority to regulate the use of commercial guides as a “manner and method of take.” While it is not anticipated that this authority would be used at this time, it does provide the NRC with the ability to consider the impacts that commercial guiding may have on our natural resources.

Once again, MUCC thanks the bill sponsors for their efforts in bringing this package of bills forward and to this Senate Committee on Outdoor Recreation and Tourism for providing an opportunity for testimony. This is a long time priority to our members and we urge the Michigan Legislature to support SB 1070-1072.

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