JACKSON – The Mississippi Department of Wildlife’s Fish and Parks Commission held its monthly meeting in Jackson on Thursday afternoon. At the meeting, four men made public comments that could bring about potential change for nature lovers.
Mike Rouse from Morton, Robert Abbott from Flora and Ben Christmas from Brandon presented an idea to the board to create more opportunities for seniors in Wildlife Management Areas. His main concern was the draw hunts at the WMAs, while fair, didn’t offer seniors the opportunity to hunt with the limited time they had left.
“We are not trying to take anything away from anyone. We’re just trying to put together a three- or four-day search for seniors,” Rouse said. “We want to implement a small hunt. We have been buying licenses for 50 years. The last time I was chosen for the Mahannah WMA was in 2008.”
He noted that most of the seniors are retired and a search could be scheduled for them 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 give older people a chance in the WMAs is that the rising cost of hunting camps has pushed older people out of them. As a result, many of them participated in the WMA sweepstakes hunts. He said he hasn’t been drawn in the last 10 years, and time is not on his side.
In addition, 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 young, I was excited about hunting magazines. They always had articles that mentioned Mississippi in a positive way,” Abbott said. “It’s been too long for the state to be out of a positive light, especially for our seniors.”
Christmas echoed his friends.
“We’ve bought a lot of licenses and sporting goods over the years, and we’ve done a lot of volunteer work in the states. We help with hunts for young squirrels. 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 provide opportunities for our older Americans to hunt in our WMAs. I hope this department looks at accessibility issues as well,” Bentz said. “We are giving them a chance. If we can speed up the process, we could look for them sometime around January.”
The commission then directed the wildlife office to propose dates for senior hunts before the next board meeting on Sept. 13, 2022.
Bruce Thornton, a northern Mississippi crappie guide, submitted a request to the board starting with a space limit for crappie. His proposal was to keep a crappie larger than 15 inches and release more fish caught above that size to protect the natural resource.
He worries that live sights allow anglers to target trophy crappie. Live viewers show a real-time image of what is below the surface of the water and can show a fish and the lure an angler is using so they can target specific fish.
“Many of these communities are financially dependent on these lakes. If we deplete our resources with these live viewers, then they will fish their state,” he said. “We need a space limit. I’m not proposing to ban live scope, but we should have a cap on crappie space.”
Another concern is that non-Mississippi guides might come in and harvest the resource without paying taxes. Several of the commissioners agreed with him. President Bill F. Cossar took an interest as an avid fisherman.
Thornton said he occasionally uses live viewers on his travels. He added that unless his clients want to mount a fish, he encourages them to throw trophy fish into the water to preserve the resource. His hope is that MDWFP will impose a guide license fee starting at $2,500 for resident guides and $5,000 for non-resident guides. Cossar agreed with him.
“We need to get rid of people who fly here, stay in motels, pay no taxes and make a profit,” Cossar said. “All the guides I have spoken to are like this gentleman here. They know where they make a living and they don’t oppose regulations.”
The commission may establish a license fee in accordance with section 49-4-39 of the Mississippi Code. The license fee for a resident cannot exceed $150 and $500 for non-residents. It would first have to be changed by the legislature for the department to impose regulations, Cossar said. The commissions fear there will be a backlash if they set a low license fee and raise it.
- License sales for fiscal year 2022 ended at $19,321,290, an increase of $283,000 from fiscal year 2021
- MDWFP’s parks division generated revenue of $9,988,576 for fiscal year 2022, an increase of $1,831,337 from fiscal year 2021. Its goal for fiscal year 2023 is $10,500,000
- Marketing reported that 720,000 people were reached with Christopher Halley’s trophy blue catfish Facebook post.
- From June and July, 1,102 citations were issued by the MDWFP Police
- 239 were without a license
- 179 were for breaking and entering
- 126 no navigation log
- 124 for PFD violations
- 45 without WMA permission
- Officers issued 399 citations during Operation Dry Water in July
- Officers issued 58 DUI citations in the state last year