MDWFP Commission considers public comments, making changes

Published 1:17 pm Thursday, August 11, 2022

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JACKSON — Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks Commission held its monthly meeting in Jackson Thursday afternoon. At the meeting, four men made public comments which could bring potential changes for outdoorsmen.

Mike Rouse from Morton, Robert Abbott of Flora, and Ben Christmas of Brandon presented an idea to the board to create more opportunities for seniors at Wildlife Management Areas. Their main concern was the draw hunts at WMAs, while fair, did not offer seniors a chance to hunt with the limited time they have left.

“We are not trying to take away from anyone. We are just trying to set up a three or four-day hunt for seniors,” Rouse said. “We want to implement a small hunt. We have been buying licenses for 50 years. The last time I was drawn for the Mahannah WMA was in 2008.” 

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He pointed out most seniors are retired, and a draw hunt for them could be set at any time during the week. Abbott said he has hunted since he was 15 years old, and many of his friends have volunteered their time to improve wildlife in Mississippi. 

Another reason the group wanted to have an opportunity for seniors at WMAs is the rising cost of hunting camps have pushed seniors out of them. As a result, a lot of them put in for WMA draw hunts. He said he has yet to be drawn in the past 10 years, and time is not on their side.

Additionally, he said the request for specific hunting times for seniors in Mississippi could be an opportunity for the state to receive good publicity. 

“When I was a young man what would get me fired up were the hunting magazines. They always had articles which mentioned Mississippi in a positive light,” Abbott said. “It has been way too long for the state to be out of a positive light, especially for our seniors.” 

Christmas echoed his friends. 

“We have bought a lot of licenses and sporting goods over the years, and we have done a lot of volunteer work in the states. We helped with the youth squirrel hunts. I chaired the Rocky Mountain Elk Hunt Foundation here in Mississippi. We would appreciate the opportunity,” Christmas said.

District 5 commissioner Leonard Bentz said he was the youngest on the board but felt they had a worthy cause. 

“We need to offer opportunities for our older Americans to hunt in our WMAs. I hope this department would also look at accessibility issues,” Bentz said. “We are affording them an opportunity. If we can expedite the process, we could have a hunt for them sometime around January.” 

The commission then directed the wildlife bureau to come up with dates for the senior hunts ahead of the next board meeting on Sept. 13, 2022. 

Bruce Thornton, a crappie guide from North Mississippi, brought a request to the board starting with a slot limit on crappie. His proposal was for one crappie over 15 inches to be kept and any more fish caught above the size must be released to protect the natural resource. 

He is concerned live scopes allow anglers to target the trophy crappie. Live scopes show a real-time image of what is underneath the water surface and can show a fish and the lure an angler is using so they could target specific fish. 

“A lot of these communities depend on these lakes financially. If we deplete our resources with these live scopes, then they will go catch fish in their state,” he said. “We need a slot limit. I’m not proposing outlawing the live scope, but we should have a slot limit for the crappie.” 

Another concern of his are guides who are not from Mississippi being able come in and harvest the resource while not paying taxes. Several of the commissioners agreed with him. Chairman Bill F. Cossar took interest as an avid angler himself. 

Thornton said he occasionally uses live scopes on his trips. He added unless his clients want to mount a fish, he encourages them to toss trophy fish back in the water to preserve the resource. His hope is for the MDWFP to impose a license fee for guides starting at $2,500 for resident guides and $5,000 for non-resident guides. Cossar agreed with him. 

“We need to get rid of the people flying in here, staying in motels, not paying taxes and making a profit,” Cossar said. “All of the guides I have talked to are like this gentleman here. They know where they make their living, and they are not opposed to regulations.”

The commission can set a license fee according to section 49-4-39 of the Mississippi Code. The resident license fee can not be higher than $150 and $500 for non-residents. It would need to be changed by the legislature first in order for the department to impose regulations, Cossar said. The commisions fear was backlash if they set a low license cost and raised it. 

Other business

  • License sales for FY2022 ended at $19,321,290 a $283,000 increase from FY2021
  • MDWFP’s Parks division brought in a revenue of $9,988,576 for FY2022, an increase of $1,831,337 from FY2021. Their goal for FY2023 is $10,500,000
  • Marketing reported 720,000 people were reached with the Facebook post of Christopher Halley’s trophy blue catfish
  • From June and July, 1,102 citations were issued by MDWFP’s Law Enforcement
    • 239 were for no license
    • 179 were for trespassing
    • 126 for no boating registration
    • 124 for PFD violations
    • 45 for no WMA Permit
    • Officers issued 399 citations during Operation Dry Water in July
    • Officers issued 58 DUI citations in the state this past year