Angler Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation

Summary

Participation in recreational fishing has plateaued since its peak in the late 1980’s. While the number of anglers in the United States has stagnated, the proportion of Americans who regularly fish has steadily declined. It is imperative that an effort be made to protect our angling traditions and the vital conservation funding that they generate.

Introduction

Participation in recreational fishing has plateaued since its peak in the late 1980’s. While the number of anglers in the United States has stagnated, the proportion of Americans age 16 and older who regularly fish, has steadily declined from 18.7% of the total U.S. population in 1991 to 13.8% of the total U.S. population in 2011.  Recent certified license data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suggest that there were approximately 33.1 million anglers in the United States in 2011.  While fishing participation has increased since 2006, it has generally declined overall since 1991, prompting the need for a more targeted effort of recruiting and retaining new anglers.  Conservation of our fisheries resources is directly related to the number of anglers purchasing fishing licenses and equipment, and angler expenditures generate billions of dollars annually for the national economy and support hundreds of thousands of jobs.   The decline in the proportion of Americans who fish poses an ever growing threat to fisheries conservation and many local economies that depend on angler-related trip expenditures. 

Through the purchase of fishing licenses, coupled with excise taxes on fishing-related items like rods, reels, lures, marine electronics, trolling motors and motorboat fuel, anglers are a critical component of the American System of Conservation Funding. Through the ASCF, anglers have contributed $7.3 billion to sport fish restoration programs since 1952.  Most of those funds go back to state fish and wildlife agencies who are the primary managers of our nation’s fish and wildlife resources. Monies generated by anglers through the ASCF in 2016 provided on average 80% of the funding for state fisheries and aquatic habitat management. In addition, anglers are responsible for generating $48 billion in retail sales and an estimated $115 billion impact on the nation’s economy,  resulting in 828,000 jobs nationwide.  

In an effort to preserve the angling tradition in the United States, state fish and wildlife agencies, sport fishing and boating conservation organizations, and the fishing industry have invested in recruitment, retention and reactivation (R3) initiatives. Example of initiatives include the “Fishing Buddy” program in New Jersey, which allows anglers to purchase licenses at a reduced price for those who have either never bought a fishing license, or have not bought one for several years. The Future Fishermen Foundation’s, “Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs” program is in its 21st year of introducing kids to fishing as a gateway to a healthier lifestyle. However, it has become clear that while many of these programs are effective at introducing someone to angling, there needs to be a coordinated, integrated plan among these various programs to take an angler from “introduction to fishing” to becoming a lifetime angler. Wildlife agencies are now working with industry and NGO partners to develop long-term recruitment, retention and reactivation plans that aim to turn the tide on declining angler numbers. 

Points of Interest

  • It is imperative that an effort be made to protect our angling traditions and the vital conservation funding that they generate.
  • Fishing appreciation programs in schools and programs to facilitate recruitment and reactivation are key to maintaining and increasing the number of American anglers.
  • Out of the pool of roughly 33 million people who fish annually, only 4% purchase a fishing license every year.

Moving Forward

Development and use of partnerships and strategic models that integrate various programs must continue to be utilized to reverse stagnating participation in angling. Numerous tools exist that may be able to reverse this trend, including implementation of mentee fishing licenses, social media outreach, and fishing appreciation programs in schools, among many others. However, the key is making sure these programs are strategically integrated to take someone from an introduction to fishing to a lifelong pastime. Additionally, protecting and expanding access to public waters should remain a priority as lack of access is often one of the biggest inhibitors to angling participation. State legislators are encouraged to work with their state fish and wildlife agencies to ensure that state-level programs are coordinated with national R3 efforts.

Contact

For more information regarding this issue, please contact Chris Horton at chorton@congressionalsportsmen.org

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