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USFW Reports 15-Year Angler Participation Trends

Posted on February 16 2011

Officially published in December and added to their Web site in January, the
“Trends in Fishing and Hunting 1991-2006” report is the result of data gathering over a twenty-year period by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. There aren’t any real suprises in the latest summary: fishing and hunting both see continued declines in participation (fishing saw about an 8% drop from 1991-2006 and hunting a 2% drop). But some of the broader trends are interesting:
— Fishing participation actually grew up until about 1991, when levels began to slide, while hunting’s been on the decline since the mid-70s.
— The total number of days spent fishing hasn’t changed appreciably since 1991 — meaning (we think) that fewer anglers are making up for the decline in participation by fishing more.
— The fishiest states for trout fishing? California, Pennsylvania and Colorado (by total participation; Montana and Maine rank higher than California in per capita participation).
— Good news: Aggregate fishing expenditures for just about every category seemed to peak in the mid-1990s and have remained relatively flat since then. Again, it appears that fewer anglers are spending more money.
What’s it all mean? We’re living in a different world than we were 20 years ago, when participation followed population growth. The report notes that 83% of the population was exposed to fishing as children, yet only 13% are still fishing. The trend toward “angler as enthusiast” and away from “angler as everyday joe” suggests we are not doing enough to thoroughly engage youth. Handing a kid a fly rod may not be enough.
On the industry side, while there is a bit more money in the marketplace, there are also more manufacturers making many more fishing products for a smaller number of anglers. Does it follow that if manufacturers aren’t focusing on brand loyalty and acquiring new customers (at the cost of their rivals), they’re at risk? And isn’t consolidation the shortest path?
Most interesting may be that fewer anglers are paying more for their gear and fishing-related activities. That — and the decline in participation — raises questions about discount gear. Budget-priced gear has had a foothold in fly fishing for almost a decade now, but it hasn’t reversed the participation trend — even if it might have slowed the drop. As expenditures among participants rise, do full-price products have a longer shelf life than everyone seems to think?
Parse the data and draw your own conclusions from the full report — and one on fishing & boating trends — on the USFWS Web site.

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