Bill To Cap Unfair Tournament Fees Clears First Hurdle

Forestville, WI – The economic impact for a community hosting a major fishing tournament can be substantial. Local and regional tournaments generate commerce, too, and add to the vitality of a region. Student anglers become more engrained in conservation with every moment they spend on the water. And charitable fishing tournaments raise funds for numerous great causes. But in North Dakota, all the above have been hindered by exorbitant state fees.

Fortunately, a group of commonsense fishing and conservation advocates in the Peace Garden State invested in making real change…

“It’s official, House Bill 1538 has passed through the North Dakota House of Representatives by a vote of 90-2-2!” proclaimed Geremy Olson of Washburn, ND, soon after receiving the good news in late February. “Now it’s onto the North Dakota Senate and then the Governor’s desk to be signed into law, we hope. We really need this bill to go all the way because it’s necessary to put North Dakota on a level playing field with surrounding states when it comes to holding high-quality fishing tournaments on our waters.”

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Designed to right a wrong that has unfairly imposed exorbitant fees on fishing tournament organizers, severely restricted the fundraising potential of charity fishing events, and deterred major fishing tours like the National Walleye Tour (NWT), Masters Walleye Circuit (MWC) and some of the large bass tournaments from investing in North Dakota, passing through the House was a major hurdle to clear. It’s not only a big win for anyone who enjoys competitive tournament fishing across the state, but also small businesses, communities, charities, and future student anglers in North Dakota.

According to Olson, who helped author the bill, it was grass roots activism, including individuals and communities that have been negatively affected by the current rule, along with backing from top level recreational fishing advocacy organizations such as the National Professional Anglers Association (NPAA), that culminated in this initial victory – but it will take more effort to push the bill through the North Dakota Senate and, eventually, across the Governor’s desk for a final sign-off.

“As things stand now,” explains Olson, who is an NPAA supporting partner and a long time NPAA member, “any entity that wishes to host a fishing tournament in North Dakota must first obtain a permit. The cost for the permit is a 10% conservation fee based on the entry and participation fees generated by the tournament. That formula eats up a significant amount of the profits – or funds raised at charity fishing tournaments. Until recently, there was a $5,000 cap on the conservation fee, which is used for projects such as building and improving boat ramps, but North Dakota Game and Fish quietly removed that cap in 2020 during the pandemic causing the fee for some tournaments to more than double. In the case of the National Walleye Tour, the conservation fee could be over $45,000 with a full field. This is a virtual ban on national tournaments coming to North Dakota. It’s simply price prohibitive. Major fishing trails have been staying away from North Dakota since the fees for them to host such tournaments are now far too high.”

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The conservation fees are also a serious barrier to student angling. The current rules require a high school fishing team to get a tournament permit just to practice if they have more than 15 boats. A $10,000 conservation fee is also required if a student tournament is free to enter but gives away scholarships. So, the conservation fees student tournaments must pay are now enormous, especially compared to our surrounding states.

“Student anglers are losing opportunities, towns that would like to host fishing tournaments are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue, and North Dakotans who would like to compete on their home waters while fishing on a national stage are taking their competitive efforts to neighboring states,” continues Olson. “In Minnesota, the tournament permit fee costs $250. In Wisconsin, it’s $25 – and in South Dakota it’s free no matter the amount of entry fees. “How are we supposed to compete with that?” he asks, incredulously.

According to Patrick Neu, NPAA’s president, the organization was quickly notified by members and partners when the rule was changed to remove the cap. NPAA immediately stepped in to initiate and coordinate a rapid and strong response, which included working with Olson and a committed group of anglers and community leaders to write and introduce at the state level a law that would stop hurting communities and businesses in North Dakota, while meeting the needs of those who run and participate in fishing tournaments across the state.

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Removing that $5,000 cap on the conservation fee from the current rule drastically affected the future of high-level fishing tournament events in North Dakota,” explained Neu, “Our response was to immediately make our members aware of the change while encouraging them to get involved in rectifying the situation by reaching out to local and state representatives. We also got behind the growing grassroots movement, meeting with the State’s Game and Fish Department and enforcement agencies and rallying support from other significant recreational fishing organizations including the American Sportfishing Association and Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.”

With the bill now headed to the North Dakota Senate, the state’s anglers, NPAA’s members, and a substantial supporting cast from other recreational fishing advocacy organizations, are doubling-down on their grassroots efforts to replace the unjust 10% conservation tax with an equally applied permit fee. Doing this will make student angling possible, allow charities to have successful fundraising events, and bring back national tournament fishing events to North Dakota, while raising more money for conservation and access projects at the local level.

“I think we are on the right track now,” says Olson. “Everyone involved intends to keep the pressure on. Removing the cap on the conservation fee was devastating to the communities here. With help from the NPAA, as well as other recreational fishing organizations, individual anglers, and the rest of our grassroots movement, we are hoping this bill gets signed into law and at least some of those well-recognized tournament trails will be back in the future. Thanks to all who have lent support to our efforts, and please keep up the great work. This wouldn’t be possible without your help.”

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NPAA represents all who make a living in the sportfishing industry. Membership includes everyone from guides and captains to tournament anglers, fishing department associates/management/shop owners, manufacturing personnel, engine mechanics, professional rep groups, and more. In addition to superior networking opportunities, sportfishing advocacy and promoting entry into the sport, the organization offers a monthly member newsletter, a weekly industry NewsBLAST, and access to significant discounts on gear and services provided by many of its nearly 80 supporting partners.

For more information on joining the NPAA and exploring the many benefits membership provides, visit

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