There’s a question I had never given any thought to asking until the North Dakota House hearing held on February 3, 2023. What is a tournament angler? Not sure if it was because I already knew the answer or the fact that I really had never given it any thought. Either way, a survey was brought up during the opposition testimony for House Bill 1538 dealing with the inconsistent and harmful “conservation fees” being charged to North Dakota fishing tournaments. Here is an excerpt from the Hearing:
“In a 2021 survey of all licensed resident anglers, 92% of the non-tournament anglers in the state and 68% of the tournament anglers themselves supported the current 10% minimum fee over a reduction in the fee,” Fisheries Division Chief, Gregory Power.
Until Mr. Power made this statement I realized I have never really thought about the question “What is a tournament angler?” More importantly for this discussion, I realized I had never even thought about making the distinction. But now that the question is out there, I have spent the last month doing some research and here are some of the interesting numbers that I’ve found. Much of this research has been done with images of spreadsheets provided by the North Dakota Game and Fish, so I’ve rounded down in most instances to be fair.
Looking at the data from the 2022 fishing tournament reports, around 50% of participants fished open water and the other 50% fished ice events. This is based on the actual anglers that showed up for the events. The reason I make the distinction is that over 19,000 people purchased tickets for one event that never showed up to fish. Are they tournament anglers? They paid the entry fee and the event sponsor paid the conservation fee for these people.
Another interesting observation is that roughly 40% of events that were held in 2022 had 50 participants or fewer. Many of these events are local leagues and clubs, employee outings, family reunions, and 1 national ice fishing circuit that had 18 participants.
Of the top 5 events accounting for 401+ participants in North Dakota, in 2022, only the Governor’s Cup is held on open water. That means that 4 of the 5 biggest tournaments in North Dakota are all ice fishing tournaments. I may be wrong but if I had to answer a trivia question I would say that the Governor’s Cup is the longest-running tournament in North Dakota.
When it comes to the “conservation fee” or permit fee to hold a fishing tournament, there are some interesting things to look at as well. Around 10% of tournaments in North Dakota in 2022 had 101-150 participants. These events included military service, 120 kids learning how to fish, sports clubs, the American Legion, a couple of city chamber events, and a Casino Cup Event. For these events with the same amount of participants fishing there is just over a $6,000 difference in permit fees.
Over the last ten years, a rough average of 19% of fishing tournament conservation fees were paid by North Dakota Fire Departments and EMS. In 2022, that number was $19,924. That’s over $120,000 in the last 10 years that didn’t stay in the local community to pay for the desperately needed equipment for our first responders.
This leads back to the question at hand “What is a tournament angler?” Is it only the 16,000+ people that showed up to an event in 2022? Is it the 35,000+ people that paid for an entry in an event, of which 19,000+ people most likely bought a ticket thinking they were supporting a good cause and had no intention of ever fishing??
I’ve been working in and around the fishing industry for over a decade now and I know only a handful of people who make their entire income solely in the fishing industry. None of them make their full income from fishing tournaments. The reality is tournament anglers are just that, anglers that fish tournaments. Not just the big events with jerseys and wrapped boats, but the angler who takes the time to support good causes, teach some kids how to fish, or compete with their buddies on a weeknight. Tournament anglers come from every walk of life and every vocation. So when it’s all said and done, the more pressing question is “what is a non-tournament angler?”
Now getting back to the 2021 survey I started with. Only 7,000 people were sent the survey and of that number, only 1,273 people responded. In 2021 there were, according to the ND Game & Fish website, 84,140 (54,077 individual, 14,609 married, 15,225 senior, and 229 disabled) fishing licenses sold in North Dakota. That means the 1,273 people who actually responded to that survey are 1.5% of license sales and 1.3% of licensed anglers when you consider married licenses in 2021. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s a pretty bad sample size to pit two groups of people against each other.
House Bill 1538 passed the ND House with a vote of 90-2-2 because it’s not about a “10% conservation fee”. It’s about letting parents and kids learn to fish together in a student-angling activity. It’s about sports clubs being able to raise money for conservation and education without having to pay a tax. It’s about charities being able to raise money without having to give 85% of those monies away. It’s about keeping money local and not trying to force communities on the water to pay up to $45,000+ to bring in an event like the National Walleye Tour with a full field for economic benefit to their residents.
The next step for House Bill 1538 is the North Dakota Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
You see, the current system is meant to restrict “tournament anglers” but the reality is, it’s hurting Main Street, North Dakota. The same people who fish a tournament or support those who do.
Geremy Olson grew up in the outdoors. After being burned as a volunteer firefighter, he had to figure out how to teach outdoor skills to his children from a wheelchair while learning to walk. Today he is an inspirational speaker, award-winning author, FCA Outdoors volunteer, video producer, wildfire consultant, and proud father of the owners of Missouri Secrets Tackle. GOspeaks.live