At the March 20, 2014 Michigan Senate Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Committee hearing on Senate Bill 869 (SB 869), Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) Legislative Liaison Trevor VanDyke stated the MDNR fully supports eliminating the existing bass season limits from state law because recent science has proven that some of their concerns they have had in the past are no longer as large of a concern and giving flexibility to the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) to set an earlier season will be good for everyone in Michigan.

Here is the entire MDNR statement from the televised and recorded hearing (MDNR Fisheries Division Chief Jim Dexter was also present as Trevor VanDyke gave the MDNR statement):

“We fully support the legislation that is in front of you today. SB 869 seeks to eliminate the requirement set in statute of what the bass season should be. Recent science has proven that some of these concerns that have had in the past are no longer as large of a concern as what has historically been there, and by eliminating this this allows the flexibility for the Natural Resources Commission to set a season earlier and this we think will be good for everyone in the state to get out there and do a little bass fishing. Also you can see some economic benefits that we’ve seen with some of the bass tournaments. One that was actually I believe in the Chairs district over the summer in the Muskegon area and it is a great economic boost for some of these local areas when you have such a great tourism, a great recreational sport. They can come in there and use our resources. We fully support this.”

SB 869 is sponsored by the Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Committee Chairman Senator Geoff Hansen, and co-sponsored by Senators Jones, Casperson, Booher, Marleau, Janson and Emmons. Committee Chairman Senator Hansen introduced SB 869 discussion with the following introduction that passing SB 869 would:

“remove conflicting statutes related to the bass fishing seasons that we have so the Natural Resources Commission would be able to regulate the bass fishing season through the use of sound science by working with the DNR and fishing groups. Recent studies have suggested that bass seasons in Michigan could be more liberal than the dates codified in statute. When bass reproduce in the spring they guard their spawning nests from predators. It was assumed that fishing for bass during the spawning period would reduce bass reproduction and consequently reduce the populations. Therefore statute was written to protect bass from fishing during their spawning periods. However studies recently conducted in Michigan and regulations for many Michigan’s bordering states show that fishing for bass in the spring while bass are spawning is not detrimental to the bass populations. Opening bass seasons could potentially increase the number of bass fishing tournaments annually held in Michigan and subsequently provide some economic stimulus to the communities adjacent to the bass fishing lakes.”

Dan Kimmel testified in support of SB 869 for the Michigan B.A.S.S. Nation (see below). MUCC Legislative Affairs Manager Matt Evans turned in a supporting statement for the MUCC stating, in observance of the time factor at the hearing that he would not speak as everything had been covered well by the other supporters.

After the MDNR’s Trevor VanDyke finished their statement, Chairman Senator Hansen asked MDNR Fisheries Chief Jim Dexter if he had anything to add to the MDNR statement. Jim said, “Thank you Senator. No. I think everything has been said. We’re all about providing more opportunity for anglers and this would be a great chance to do just that. Pretty simple move for us. Right now, we have about 5 months or so of the year that anglers can’t get out there and take advantage of getting on the water to fish for bass and this would provide that opportunity to the Natural Resources Commission to do that.

Senator Hansen asked Chief Dexter, “Now it’s my understanding that there are only 4 states out of the 49 that have bass that actually have a closed season?”

Chief Dexter replied, “Yeah, I believe – I think that’s right. Four states that have some type of closure. We are one of them.”

The Committee passed SB 869 5-0 unanimously reporting with a favorable recommendation and a recommendation for immediate effect. Under Michigan law a bill must be read three times before the Senate and the House before it can be passed though usually the reading just included the title of the bill. After passage with favorable recommendation SB 869 was printed in the Senate journal and the Senate resolves into the Committee of the Whole. No amendments were offered to SB 869 and after the required Third Reading SB 869 passed the Michigan Senate unanimously 37 yes votes with 1 excused.

SB 869 has been sent to the Michigan House and referred to the House Natural Resources Committee chaired by Representative Andrea LaFontaine (R, District 32 near Lake St. Clair). I have contacted Rep. LaFontaine and will be submitting written information similar to the following Senate statement below. We are waiting for notice that SB 869 has been added to an agenda for committee hearing. In the meantime, you could visit the committee page linked above and send contacts to the committee chair and members urging them to support SB 869.

The goal is to get SB 869 recommended favorably without amendment with immediate effect by the House Natural Resources Committee, then approved by 2/3 or more of the Michigan House so it can go to the Governor. In this ideal circumstance the bill would become law as soon as Governor Snyder signs and files the bill with the Secretary of State.

SB 869 is a fairly simple bill since it only displays the present statute language from Public Act (PA) 451 of 1994, entitled “Natural resources and environmental protection act,” amending section 48716 (MCL 324.48716), as added by 1995 PA 57 by striking subsection (a) Largemouth and smallmouth black bass from the Saturday immediately preceding Memorial Day to December 31, except in Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers, in which waters the open season is from the third Saturday in June to December 31. and moving the other subsections up one letter.

Rep. LaFontaine has been very supportive of hunting and fishing issues in the past. There is wide spread support for increasing Michigan’s Natural Resource Economy within the Legislature and the Governor’s office, so the experts expect the bill will pass and become law. We will still do the necessary work to make sure the odds are in our favor since the present season limit needs to be removed from state law before the NRC can use their authority to create a longer bass season.

Helpful Resources

March 20, 2014 SB 869 testimony to the Michigan Senate Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Committee in support by Dan Kimmel, Conservation Director, Michigan B.A.S.S. Nation:

Thank you to Senators Hansen, Jones, Casperson, Booher, Marleau, Jansen and Emmons for sponsoring Senate Bill 869, and to the members of the Committee on Outdoor Recreation and Tourism for giving us your time.

Michigan B.A.S.S. Nation supported Proposal G in 1996 along with 63% of Michiganders, and Public Act 21 signed into law May 2013, to give the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) equal authority to manage fish and game scientifically. We’ve been working for scientific management of Michigan largemouth and smallmouth bass since the 1980s. Passing Senate Bill 869 is a necessary, important next step to give the procedural authority Public Act 21 intended to the NRC for bass, so we can move forward with the year-round bass fishing season we’ve been working for all these long years.

Michigan is one of only 4 states out of 49 in the U.S.A. with a statewide closed bass season. Passing SB 869 will simply remove the law restriction limiting Michigan bass fishing opportunity to the end of May until December 31, and limiting our best and most famous bass lake – Lake St. Clair – the most by keeping it closed to bass fishing until the third Friday in June. That’s kind of like holding your starting quarterback out of the game until the third quarter.

Panfish anglers can generally fish almost all waters all year. Walleye, pike, trout and salmon anglers can generally fish all year at least on much of the Great Lakes. These are all high harvest fish. Michigan bass anglers, who voluntarily release an average of 80% to 92% of the legal-sized bass they catch, are limited the most with a statewide closed season despite bass not being a harvest species.

We believe dissatisfaction among anglers who can’t target their favorite fish all year contributes to our issues of utmost importance – retaining anglers and recruiting new anglers – equaling lost fishing license sales and funding for Natural Resources protection and management through excise fees. According to studies the later in the year anglers are able to start targeting their favorite species, the more likely they are to decide not to buy a fishing license that year.

We also lose significant revenue for our Natural Resources Economy due to anglers traveling out of Michigan to bass fish elsewhere each spring, and because nonresident anglers attracted to our abundant waters are unable to legally fish for bass during the spring, though the majority of these anglers come from states that allow year-round bass fishing, including Indiana and Ohio next door.

The 2011 US Fish and Wildlife Survey (USFWS) showed 589,000 resident and nonresident anglers fished for Michigan bass making bass the number one game fish, second only to panfish in number of anglers, and first in number of days spent fishing at 8,739,000 angler days – almost 15 bass fishing days/ year/angler. At the USFWS average trip-related expenditure of $39/day that makes bass fishing gas, motel/hotel, food and similar a $341 Million/year economic boost to Michigan’s Natural Resource Economy. That amount does not include fishing tackle, boats, motors and other gear. I can tell you from personal experience bass anglers spend a lot of money on equipment.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) recently reported that 16% of surveyed anglers said they would fish in a spring catch-and-release season – which is what we are proposing – legal catch-and-release from January 1 until the Memorial weekend opener. At 16% of 589,000 anglers each additional bass fishing day is another $3.67 million of trip-related expenditure alone towards Michigan’s Natural Resource Economy.

Passing SB 869 to remove bass season restrictions from state law allows us to continue working with the MDNR and the NRC for the year-round bass season anglers in 45 states enjoy.

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