Presenters: Andrew Sansom

Commission Agenda Item No. 5
Fishing and the Future
April 1999

I. Discussion: Headline in USA TODAY, Feb.16, 1999: Fishing’s $40 billion allure Bigger than golf, dropping a line is now mainstream - Can 50 million Americans be wrong? Or is recreational fishing just about the neatest thing to do these days?

Some 2.6 million Texans would not argue with that statement, as today Texas arguably provides the best overall fishing in the United States. Texas anglers (1996-97) are spending $1,000 each and fishing a combined 51 million days a year to prove it. Even if you accuse Texans of telling the occasional tall tale, a lot of other people believe it as well. Out of state anglers contributed $79 million last year and helped boost Texas past Florida and into second place (behind California) in total fishing expenditures. That translates into $6.2 billion dollars of economic benefits to Texas each year.

It did not happen by accident. It was the vision of leaders like Bob Kemp (TPWD Fisheries Director C 1974 to 1986), Chester Burdett (Law Enforcement Director C 1979 to 1992) and others starting some 25 years ago. It was a stream of talented fisheries, resource and law enforcement professionals at TPWD with the skill and dedication to implement that vision. It was the efforts of determined, conservation-minded organizations like the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) and Sportsmen Conservationists of Texas (SCOT), among others, to keep that vision on track and moving forward.

The vision has become reality and we now enjoy the fruits of their labor. Today a Texan in any major city in the state is within a ninety-minute drive of the opportunity to catch a lunker bass, or if casting a line into any Texas bay, having a similar chance for red drum and spotted seatrout.

It is important we sustain the momentum. We must engage the means to gather up and carry that original vision into the new millenium. Two points are clear from the start: 1) assuring the fishing legacy we all fought so hard to win will take all of us working together; and, 2) it will not be the same fight. What we did to get to this point will not necessarily serve us to maintain our fisheries. The challenges will be different. By the year 2030 we will have twice as many Texans (34 million) as we do now. Think about that. It has taken 163 years for our population to reach 18 million. It will double in the next 23 years. Change is a tide rushing in which can overwhelm us or buoy us up. The choices we make and strategies we adopt will determine if we sink or swim on that tide, so here are some observations about the future of fishing.

The Texas angler of 2030 will be different than the angler of today. The angler of 1999 is most likely an Angelo male and 42 years of age. He lives in a major city and has been fishing for an average of 27 years if a freshwater angler, or 20 years if primarily a saltwater angler. He spends about $140 on a two-day trip over a weekend. Saltwater anglers spend about $228 over the same period, but travel a little farther to do so. A typical angler fishes from 17 days (saltwater) to 24 days (freshwater) each year. They mostly fish for fun and relaxation, but some (freshwater: 16%, saltwater: 18%) do participate in organized events, like tournaments.

Unless we do something about it, there will be only two differences between the anglers of today and of 2030. They will be older and there will be fewer of them. Bottom line C we need more people fishing. The fastest growing Texas demographic is Hispanic and that segment of the population will become a majority by 2030. The good news is that it is the only demographic where participation in fishing is anticipated to increase (from the current 20% to 35%). The bad news is that a decrease in Angelo participation (69% to 48%) and the competition for time to do other things, across all demographics will likely offset the gain. Unless we do something fishing will likely continue to decline.

Anglers who did not fish in 1996 stated that work and family constraints (89%), other activities (66%) and cost of equipment (38%) kept them from fishing. The sales of licenses substantiate that data, as there has been a 21.3% decline in fishing license sales since the peak in 1983. The marginal participants, those who would fish 3, 4 or 5 days in a year, or that would buy a license on the off chance that they would C are mostly gone. What we have left is a core of dedicated anglers and the tide of a changing Texas seems to be pushing them out of the mainstream, despite what USA TODAY reports.

The saltwater angler is one key to turning the tide. We face the possibility of losing all we have gained unless we can turn that tide and Texas saltwater anglers could be a foundation upon which we can build. The decline in sale of fishing licenses was 13% over the last ten years, but during that period saltwater stamp sales increased by 7%. That translates into a net gain to saltwater fishing at the expense of freshwater fishing. Why? Answering that question might help us to focus on the winning strategies to assure the future for all of fishing. We need everyone pushing against that changing tide. Remember there are two and a half times as many freshwater anglers as there are saltwater anglers. We need everyone wetting a line, also working for the future.

Recruiting a new generation of anglers. We are not doing a good job recruiting new anglers, or at least, we are not retaining them. Some 85% of all Texans try fishing sometime in their lives which is great, but only 35% of them fished last year. We hook’em, but we can’t seem to set the hook. We do better in saltwater than in freshwater where some 25% have fished for less than 10 years. That is further confirmation of successful recruiting into saltwater fishing. In freshwater only about 10% have fished less than 10 years. Why is that? There seem to be three reasons: access, opportunity, and cost.

If you are a bank fisherman equipment costs between freshwater and saltwater are not significantly different, but as I noted they are in the minority in several respects. If you watch fishing shows and most of the commercials supporting them you can get the idea that if you do not have $30,000 boat and all of the accessories you cannot be a successful fisherman. It can be very intimidating for anyone interested in getting started if they feel they must make such an investment. When you check boat show statistics you will see that bay boats generally cost $10,000, or so less and are more versatile as they can be readily used in both freshwater and saltwater. At least one major equipment manufacturer has indicated slow sales everywhere last year, except for light tackle sold primarily for saltwater fishing. Further confirmation of trends noted elsewhere.

Winning strategies for the future of fishing. Some of what attracts anglers to the sea such as discussed above is evident and we need to expand on them in both fresh and saltwater. We need more kids fishing, so programs like KidFish and others like it, must be enhanced. We cannot forget adults. We need organized programs that provide mentors for all ages. It can also be as simple as inviting a non-angler out fishing. This is where fishing organizations can be a big help. Fishing opportunities that are family oriented is an obvious strategy. We must turn that perceived constraint into an opportunity for family fun wherever we can.

We must expand access that is not necessarily dependent upon a boat. You cannot get hooked on fishing unless there is a place to try it, and that place needs to be easy to reach (within 150 miles of home according to surveys) and inexpensive (piers, banks, party boats, etc). We must not scare away potential anglers because of "sticker shock" or overwhelm and intimidate them with the almost unbelievable diversity of boats, tackle and accessories found in any major retail store. Expanding introductory boating programs along with boater safety can help those who interested in boating to feel comfortable in pursuing it. "How-to" fishing seminars and programs, inexpensive but quality introductory gear and other programs that reduce the intimidation factor is important. This is where we need industry help.

We can be successful, not only in preserving our Texas fishing legacy, but enhancing it for future anglers. It will take all of us working together. The talent, dedication, even passion is there among Texas anglers to assure success. We must tap all of it in fishing for the future.

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