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Bill would put commission in charge of Game and Fish fees

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PHOENIX – For an Arizona resident wishing to fish with two poles at Tempe Town Lake, he or she must purchase the following:

• A $23.50 general fishing license offered by the state – not to be confused with the $18.50 state urban fishing license required for Papago Ponds less than two miles away.

• A $6 stamp required to fish with two poles.

• If fishing for trout, another $15.75 stamp.

“We’ve got more than 40 different license types, and that’s confusing for the customer,” said Tom Cadden, public information supervisor for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Concerned that such a complicated licensing system deters would-be hunters and anglers, the agency wants to simplify things by bundling options. But under current law any such changes must go through a three-year legislative process at the State Capitol.

“It’s very difficult to be responsive to customers with this kind of process,” Cadden said.

Now leaders are asking state lawmakers to leave such decisions to the five-member Arizona Game and Fish Commission.

SB 1223, authored by state Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, would put the commission in charge of the agency’s license, permit, tag and stamp fees. The measure won unanimous approval last week from the Senate Natural Resources and Rural Affairs Committee.

Ty Gray, assistant director for Game and Fish, said a lot of people are hunting and fishing with the wrong licenses and stamps without even knowing it.

“Right now, if you want to go fish in certain areas, you need a certain license,” Gray said. “A lot of people aren’t aware of that; they buy their Arizona state fishing license and think they’re good to go.

“So we’re trying to avoid confusion and make it so that if somebody has a fishing license, they can fish wherever,” he added.

Cadden said the department, which receives no state funding, brings in the majority of its revenue through hunting and fishing license sales and as a result has to operate like a business.

Tony Guiles, the department’s legislative liaison, said it’s difficult to do that without the ability to react quickly to the market.

“The problem is that if our customer says they want some type of change, we have to go through the three-year process first,” Guiles said. “So we have to tell our customer, ‘Come back and see us in about three or four years and we may be able to offer that product.’ It’s no surprise we’re going to lose that customer.”

One change customers are demanding is having hunting and fishing licenses last a full 365 days rather than until the end of a calendar year.

“People come to us and say, ‘When I buy my fishing license in September, it’s only good for four months. Where’s the value in that if you’re still making me pay full price?’” Guiles said.

Pierce’s bill has the support of Arizona hunting and fishing groups.

John Koleszar, vice president of the Arizona Deer Association, said Game and Fish needs to be able to act on its own.

“If they don’t have to go through the Legislature, they could enact a lot of changes to avoid this confusion,” he said.

Cinda Howard, president of Desert Fly Casters and a former employee in a fly shop, said people often are deterred from buying licenses when even retailers are confused by the system.

“We support anything that makes this cumbersome license system easier,” she said. “In my time at the shop I had to help a lot of people figure out what license they need because it’s so complicated for the average customer.”

Cadden said the change sought by SB 1223 would allow the agency to remove a barrier for Arizonans who want to hunt and fish.

“Kids these days want to play video games and that type of thing, but we really want people to get outdoors and enjoy the resource because that helps foster a citizenry that cares about natural resource issues,” he said.