Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Key fisheries bills up in Senate committee this week

Earlier this month, two of the biggest fisheries-related bills of the 2021 legislative session cleared the hurdles of the House Natural Resources Committee and the full House floor vote.  Come this Thursday, they face perhaps the last obstacle when they get heard by the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

If passed by the Committee, they would then go on to the full Senate for a floor vote. Then if passed there, it's on to the governor's signature to become law.  As of now, each faces a tough task in committee. But if they pass committee, chances are very good they become law.

HB535 - Provides relative to the geographic location for the taking of menhaden (we STRONGLY SUPPORT)

This provides a 1/2-mile shoreline buffer for the commercial taking of menhaden, with a few extended zones such as Grand Isle (3-mile). While the bill has been championed by several conservation organizations, including FFI Gulf Coast Council, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and others, CCA Louisiana has led the biggest effort. It would seem this is a no-brainer, especially given that Louisiana is one of the few states that allows menhaden harvest, and the only state that doesn't have a buffer zone. However, the menhaden industry has been lobbying state senators very hard.

HB691 - Provides relative to fee increases for the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (since amended, we STRONGLY SUPPORT)

This bill would provide the first system increase of fishing and hunting licenses in 20 years.  It would also simplify the number and extent of current licenses. The fee increases are needed as revenue shortfalls from LDWF-owned oil and gas continue to decline, and current fees are way insufficient. In addition, Louisiana is missing out on millions in matching revenue from federal excise taxes. One example of how outdated Louisiana licenses are... the resident senior hunt/fish combo is just $5. This bill raises it to $20.  By contrast, the same Texas license is $32.  Negative responses to this increase have been similiar to this "Only wealthy retirees will be able to afford this license".  I kid you not!  Since being amended on the House floor to delete kayak registration and reduce lifetime licenses, the bill has collected more support. But will it be enough to overcome a strong anti-increase sentiment among folks who really don't care about our wildlife other than how much they can take?  We'll see.