Minnesota's $17 resident fishing license ranks 36th in the nation in price, meaning the state is one of the cheapest places to fish. The average cost of a fishing license nationally is about $21.

And the state's deer hunters get a bargain. The $26 firearms deer hunting license ranks 30th nationally, well below the average of $34.42.

Minnesota's fees are lower than most neighboring states's, too.

Those are some of the figures revealed in a study done by a Virginia research firm for the Department of Natural Resources. It was presented to 300 citizens and staff at the agency's annual Roundtable meetings over the weekend in Brooklyn Center.

The DNR paid $70,000 for the study because its Game and Fish Fund -- funded primarily by hunting and license fees -- is headed into the red by 2014 and the agency is looking for options. Officials said they have made cutbacks but note that general license fees haven't been increased in 10 years and that inflation has eroded the buying power. The $17 fishing license would cost $21 if it had kept pace with inflation.

DNR officials say a fee increase is overdue, but they aren't proposing one just yet. However, an increase could be offered at the Legislature as soon as next month, if new DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr and Gov. Mark Dayton approve.

Increase uncertain

Even if that happens, it's uncertain whether the newly empowered Republican majority would OK an increase.

"If we don't do it now, we'll be in real trouble,'' said Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, a member of the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee. "Because it for sure won't happen next year, an election year.'' But he acknowledged it might be a tough sell.

Even if the measure was passed in 2011, new revenue wouldn't flow to the DNR until 2013 -- close to the date when the fund could dip into the red.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, chairman of that key committee, agreed it might be difficult to sell new legislators on a fee increase. "It depends on how much they [hunters and anglers] speak up [to support an increase],'' he said.

Tom Neustrom of Grand Rapids, an angler and guide, said he and other anglers support a fee increase. "We've been fighting for this license increase for seven years,'' he said. "We have the best fishing in the country. If we're going to maintain it, we need the funds to do it.''

Expanding fishing and hunting license options also is a possibility. Among them: A three- or five-year license, as well as three-day, seven-day or six-month licenses.

Two fishing lines?

Allowing Minnesota's open-water anglers to use two fishing lines will be debated at the Legislature again. Hackbarth said he will author the legislation. "It's something a lot of anglers have wanted for a long time,'' he said. "Neighboring states have it, and you can use two lines [here] in the winter.'' Neustrom said he strongly opposes the idea. "The majority of the people we talk to in our area are against it,'' he said. "It would increase fish mortality and lead to tighter bag limits. There's no need for it.''

Winnie, Leech regs

The DNR will retain Lake Winnibigoshish's 17-26-inch protected slot for walleyes. The daily limit will remain six. And Leech Lake's 18-26-inch protected walleye slot will be retained, too, for 2011.

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com