Michigan State Capital

4 Michigan Legislators Demand DNR Restore Commercial Fishing Licenses

In early January, we published an article that the Michigan DNR effectively shut down commercial fishing in 2021. The DNR refused to issue commercial fishing licenses for 2021. This was distressing. Besides being a loyal customer to the Bay Port Fish Company, we are also big fans of the annual Bay Port Fish Sandwich Festival. Both of these valued institutions would be threatened if fishing wasn’t allowed.

Sometimes writing a letter to your state senator gets things moving

On January 7th, I sent an email to state senator Dan Lauwers calling attention to an issue affecting an essential industry in Michigan; Commercial Fishing. I learned that recent rules instituted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources had, in effect, have shut down the state’s commercial fishing industry for the remaining 13 fishing operations in 2021. Since there was no renewed legislation on commercial fishing, the DNR took the position that licenses would be withheld this year. I’m still scratching my head, wondering the logic behind such a position.

I noted that besides bankrupting these businesses, including the Bay Port Fish Company, that this lack of effort by the DNR will affect restaurants and tourism in our state as we recover from the covid pandemic.

I was extremely pleased with his reply.

Yesterday, Senators Dan Lauwers, Kevin Daley, Curt VanderWall, and Representative Phil Green sent an inquiry to the MDNR director Daniel Eichinger asking that commercial fishing licenses be reinstated until legislation can be introduced, passed by both the House and the Senate, and signed by the Governor. The senators demanded that the Department needed to maintain the 2020 status quo of all commercial fishing licenses and permits. A copy of the legislative letter can be had on this link. The full contents of the senators’ letter to director Eichinger are below.

Letter to Daniel Eichinger, Director January 19, 2021 Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Dear Director Eichinger,

As you are aware, the Michigan Fish Producers Association filed a complaint against the Department of Natural Resources alleging improprieties associated with the Department’s actions and reactions associated with House Bills 4567, 4568 and 4569 that were passed by the House then, taken up, considered but not passed by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources during the last legislative session.

The heart of the matter seems to be the Department openly communicated to the state licensed commercial fisherman that unless the “House Versions” of the bills were passed and signed into law, either their licenses would not be granted in 2021 or dramatically changed to limit their ability to fish as they have in the past.

We will let the Michigan Court of Claims decide whether your Department has violated these citizens’ constitutional right to free speech. However, we are very concerned about a governmental agency using these tactics during the legislative process to achieve the agency’s legislative goals.
Apparently, the MDNR was satisfied with the House versions of the bills. However, when Senate Natural Resources Committee Chairman McBroom worked on the legislation, the Department on December 3rd opposed “all” amendments. Shortly thereafter, all state licensed commercial fisherman received a letter from the Department reiterating that “if these bills are not passed this year” — the Department would take dramatic action that either eliminates their fishing licenses, or drastically and negatively changes their ability to do business.

Withholding a person’s license or administratively restricting their business as a threat and/or inducement for supporting, or worse; retaliation for not supporting legislative objectives of the Administration, smacks of totalitarianism along with political and economic extortion. We are concerned this was the objective by the department in its communications to the commercial fishing industry.

The legislative process includes a combination of things including research, analysis, discussion, debate, compromise and decision making by those elected to do so in both the House and Senate. The opinion of a government agency is sometimes also one of these factors. However, in this case it appears the MDNR mistakenly believed that its opinion should have been the Senate’s only deciding factor.

There is no doubt that the commercial fishing law and rules are in great need of updating. However, the need to do so is not the fault of Michigan’s commercial fishing industry. Until legislation can be introduced, passed by both the House and the Senate, and signed by the Governor, the Department needs to maintain the 2020 status quo of all commercial fishing licenses and permits.


Dan Lauwers, State Senator, 25th District

Kevin Daley, State Senator, 31st District

Curt VanderWall, State Senator, 35th District

Phil Green, State Representative, 84th District

Next Steps for Michigan Commercial Fishing Critical

We will monitor the reaction of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Hopefully, Director Eichinger will order the renewal of the licenses soon.

The Michigan Legislature is still on the hook for finalizing an updated Commercial Fishing Bill. Senator Ed McBroom, who chairs the Natural Resources Committee, is still wrestling with the Michigan DNR issuing a final draft. We will endeavor to keep our readers updated. If you want to follow our stories, please Like or Follow Thumbwind’s Facebook Page.

Michael Hardy

Mike Hardy is the owner of Thumbwind Publications LLC. It started in 2009 as a fun-loving site covering Michigan's Upper Thumb. Since then, he has authored a vast range of content and established a loyal base of 60,000 visitors per month.

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4 thoughts on “4 Michigan Legislators Demand DNR Restore Commercial Fishing Licenses

  1. Very one sided article. Commercial fishermen have contributed to the demise of Great Lakes whitefish and perch. Even though those populations have plummeted to modern day low levels, commercial fishermen want to still be able to take as many as they want with few restrictions. Sport fishermen just had their perch limits cut in half due to perch numbers. How about an balanced article that looks at both sides of the issue?

    1. Hi Michael…thanks for your comments. You are invited to explore and check out some of the other posts on this topic. I think you will find what your looking for.

  2. Did you ask any of the legislators why Senator McBroom didn’t move Daley’s bill forward? The one that was on his desk for two years? Instead he waited until the 11th hour to propose OVER 100 amendments. The commercial netting industry and the legislature had the ball fully in their court and dropped it. Now the DNR has decided to enforce the statute as written… not some administrative giveaways to the commercial netting operations. It’s a new day, and we can now protect and conserve Saginaw Bay’s $30 million recreational fishing industry from the continued over harvest by commercial netters. A letter signed by four legislators? I guess it isn’t important to the rest of them.

    1. Hi Terry, thanks for your comments.

      We have made several inquiries to Senator McBroom. No response. It’s our understanding that the DNR had copies of every proposal and chose not to respond. This affects all of Michigan’s waters, not just Saginaw Bay. For the DNR to not renew licenses is a change from the norm. At this point, no commercial fishers can operate in the state. It also excludes tribal claims which are not under DNR jurisdiction.

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