Some Mississippi River Guides Worry About Impacts Of Increased Permit Fees

The US Fish & Wildlife Service Has Proposed Charging Guides, Dock Owners Per Customer To Operate On the River

Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge sign
Joshua Mayer (CC BY-SA)

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has released a new proposal for permit fees paid by fishing docks and guides on the Upper Mississippi River.

The agency wants to charge hunting, fishing and wildlife observation guides and fishing docks per customer, with fees ranging from $0.60 to $6. The maximum permit fee charged would be $500.

“Those fees would be charged directly to the clients of these businesses and then would be in turn passed through the business to the Fish & Wildlife Service to pay the fee for operating on public land,” said Sabrina Chandler, refuge manager for the USFWS.

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Businesses on the river are required to apply for a special use permit from USFWS because the portion of the river along Wisconsin is part of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.

The agency released a proposal to increase commercial user fees in 2016 as part of an update to the refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan. That fee change would have required businesses to pay 3 percent of their gross revenue or at least $500.

“Over the last year and a half or so we have been working with our state partners primarily to alleviate as many concerns with these documents as we can,” Chandler said.

Chandler said USFWS is required by law to recoup the cost of administering commercial use permits. Businesses currently pay a $100 administrative fee for a permit, which would continue under the new proposal.

But some guides and dock owners feel the fee change is unfair because they already pay to operate on the refuge.

“We’re paying a fee to the state of Wisconsin by buying a guide license. We pay a fee when we buy our fishing license,” said Mario De Guzman, owner of Lazy River Boat Rental & Guide Service in Stoddard, WI. “Guys that are guiding, making money on little lakes that are not the federal refuge, they don’t have to pay a fee. They’re still making money on public land or public water.”

Rather than raising costs only for businesses, De Guzman said he thinks all users should have to pay the refuge to use the river.

“We take care of it a heck of a lot better than your average boater does. Your average boater goes out there to a sandbar leaves a bunch of crap laying out there. We don’t do that,” De Guzman said. “We’ve been licensed captains for many years, a lot of us have, and we take care of the environment as much as possible.”

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is taking public comment on the proposal until April 9.