Fish, hunt, save lives: MN first to offer organ donor option on fishing license

MOORHEAD, Minn. -- Minnesota's fishing season is about to start, and those renewing their license online will have a chance to save lives through a new, first-of-its-kind program.

Nick Burton, 26, of Fergus Falls, Minn., fishes the Red River in Fargo for the first time Wednesday, May 3. Burton is already a registered organ donor, but thinks the new registration system through LifeSource and the Minnesota DNR is a good idea. Kim Hyatt/ Forum News Service

MOORHEAD, Minn. - Minnesota's fishing season is about to start, and those renewing their license online will have a chance to save lives through a new, first-of-its-kind program.

Minnesota is the first state to allow would-be anglers to register as organ, eye and tissue donors as they sign up for a fishing permit.

Organ donation through the Department of Natural Resources license registration website went live March 1, and already 4,300 people have checked the donor box. It's only available online, not in stores, and works the same as the organ donation option on a driver's license.

"I think it's a good idea. I definitely support being an organ donor, it's important. The more times people see that and think about it, it brings awareness to it," said Jack Gossen, 19, of Plymouth, Minn., who was fishing the Red River with a friend this week at Fargo's Dike East Park. "But it seems odd to have it with fishing and hunting."

It's a strategic move, though. Sixty-three percent of Minnesotans are registered donors, above the national rate of 50 percent.


But women are more likely to register to be a donor than men, as are younger people, said Susan Mau Larson, director of partner and community relations at LifeSource, the Upper Midwest nonprofit partnering with the DNR to create the new system.

"So giving people the opportunity to register as a donor each time they purchase a hunting and fishing license online does reach a population that is less likely to be a registered donor than the state as a whole," said Matt Erickson, public relations coordinator with LifeSource.

Organ donation registration through driver's licenses was "incredibly effective" and regulation supporting it came to each state between 1968 and 1975, Larson said.

It also gives people more chances to check the organ donation box. A driver's license comes up for renewal every four years, Larson said, while hunting and fishing licenses are annual.

Steve Michaels, Minnesota DNR electronic licensing system program director, said the system is built to be simple.

"Do you want to be an organ donor? If you select 'yes,' that's all there is to it," he said.

The best advice for those supporting donation is to always check "yes," even if you are already registered, Erickson said.

"If somebody checks the box who was already registered as a donor, they are still only counted once in the system. It would be the same as if they registered through our website and then checked the box when renewing their driver's license," Erickson said.


Registering through the DNR website adds the license holder to the state's donor database, but nothing appears on a hunting or fishing license to note this like on a driver's license.

The overall aim is increasing access and opportunities to save lives. More than 60,000 Minnesotans get their hunting and fishing licenses online each year, while 3,000 are waiting for lifesaving donations each year.

"It's important to continue to increase the number of people who say 'yes' to donate so we can help those 3,000 people," Larson said.

LifeSource serves Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and portions of western Wisconsin.

Based on the success of the Minnesota program, "we may take it to North Dakota and South Dakota state legislators," Larson said, adding that it was a two-year legislative process in Minnesota to roll out the system and make it law.

"We are the first state in the nation to do this," Larson said. "We didn't have a roadmap to follow."

Kim Hyatt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead covering community issues and other topics. She previously worked for the Owatonna People's Press where she received the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Dave Pyle New Journalist Award in 2016. Later that year, she joined The Forum as a night reporter and is now part of the investigative team. She's a 2014 graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth.
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