News Story

Regulated Enough? Bill Imposes Licensing Mandate on Hunting, Fishing Guides

Current guides say state should enforce existing rules, not write new ones

A proposal to enact sweeping new licensing requirements for hunting and fishing guides in Michigan has been introduced in the state House.

The proposal, contained in HB 4442 and sponsored by Rep. Gary Howell, R-North Branch, would impose:

  •  A $500 (3-year) licensing fee on those who guide hunters and anglers for pay on state forest land.
  •  A requirement that guides be certified in first aid and CPR.
  •  A prohibition on licensure for anyone convicted of any felony or a misdemeanor involving fish and game regulations.
  •  A mandate that hunting and fishing guides file regular reports on their activities and the game or fish harvested.
  •  A requirement that guides maintain $1 million in liability insurance.

The new licensing regime would replace a patchwork of regulations that are generally less onerous and minimally enforced, and place Michigan guides among the most highly regulated in the nation.

The proposal, modeled on a similar bill that was not acted upon in 2016, was introduced in April and has the backing of several prominent conservation organizations. But it has received relatively little attention from those most directly affected — the state’s hunting and fishing guides and their customers.

Steve Fraley, a veteran fishing guide who operates out of Baldwin in northwest lower Michigan, said he’s seen limited discussion about the bill on social media but next to nothing elsewhere.

“In general, it sounds like a horrible idea,” Fraley said. “I’m not sure what they’re trying to do. But if they want to stop bad actors, they should enforce (the rules) we already have. Right now, there’s absolutely no enforcement.”

Amy Trotter, executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs, one of the groups supporting more stringent requirements, said targeting bad actors is a top priority.

“What this really comes down to is that we don’t want to see multiple (game and fish law) violators taking novice hunters (and anglers) into the field. Under current law, the day a violator walks out of jail he can go to work” guiding others, Trotter said.

The other important factor for MUCC is the opportunity to collect better data for Michigan game regulators charged with managing the state’s wildlife, she said.

Trotter said MUCC doesn’t necessarily support the proposed fee schedule, which she called “probably too high.”

“The idea is to have a low barrier of entry (for prospective guides), but strict enforcement,” she said.

But Fraley, and several other guides, who discussed the proposal but asked not to be publicly identified, remain skeptical, especially about the state’s commitment to enforcement.

Fraley said he also guides inland fishing charters in Alaska, which for many years required regular harvest reports. In 2019, Alaska is dropping the requirement, he said.

“I don’t think it worked very well . . . and it was a real pain,” Fraley said.

“If they enact it here no one would report it accurately and they’ll never enforce it.”

The bill comes at the same time as a bipartisan legislative initiative to limit using criminal records to bar an individual from getting a license under one of the many current occupational licensure mandates imposed by the state. Howell voted for a bill last October to establish that a criminal conviction itself is not grounds for denying a professional license unless it was for a felony directed related to the profession.

Howell said he agreed to submit his legislation at the urging of the conservation organizations “mainly to get a discussion started into whether it is appropriate to have a guiding licensing system in Michigan.”

No hearing on the bill has been scheduled.