When it comes to anglers dropping in and out of the sport from year-to-year: there’s good news and bad news, and both are surprising. The bad news is anglers aren’t nearly as avid as we like to think. The good news is there’s far more opportunities to engage people in fishing than one would believe.
These and other findings are explained in a new report, U.S. Angler Population, Who Comes and Who Goes, produced for the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) by Southwick Associates—the first in a series of studies to shed new light on anglers’ fishing habits and loyalty to the sport.
“I think the most important thing we’ve uncovered is that our challenge may not be as much about getting people to take up fishing as it is about keeping people fishing from year-to-year,” said Mike Nussman, ASA’s president and CEO, noting that 46 percent of anglers in recent years—roughly 15 million people—do not fish the following year.
“That shows how critical it is to reach out and really engage fishing license buyers every single year. Fortunately our community has the capacity to do that through efforts such as the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation,” added Nussman. “It also confirms we need to keep working on making fishing a better experience by improving access, quality and convenience.”
Up until now, the most common way to measure fishing participation has been simply tracking state fishing license sales. But relying on those numbers alone can be misleading.
Overall fishing participation is relatively stable from year to year, annually hovering around 33 million people over the age of 16, easily giving the impression that anglers are consistently taking part in the sport.
Looking below the surface, however, the pool of individual anglers actually fluctuates greatly—about the same number of people joins and leaves the angling population each year.
That’s an important aspect of participation dynamics for the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation and state fisheries agencies to take into account. These organizations are taking the lead for the broader sportfishing community on a strategy called “R3,” including targeted marketing toward retaining, recruiting and reactivating anglers, categories that refer to participation from year to year.
Growing the fishing participation rate is important because it greatly affects state natural resource agencies’ efforts to conserve the environment and provide quality on-the-water experiences in their communities. Revenue raised from fishing license purchases, along with excise taxes on fishing gear and motor boat fuels paid by anglers, boaters, and product manufacturers, contributes about $2 billion a year to fisheries and habitat conservation as well as public facilities like piers and boat ramps.
Die-hard anglers are a small group: Out of the pool of roughly 33 million people who fish each year, only 4 percent of the licensed anglers purchase a fishing license every year (10 out of 10 years). The largest proportion of anglers—49 percent—purchases a license only one out of 10 years. Almost as many—47 percent—purchase a license in more than one year but lapse in between purchases.
Participation fluctuates greatly year-to-year: Close to half of all licensed anglers (46 percent) do not renew their licenses in any given year. The typical angler buys a license about three out of every 10 years throughout their fishing lifetime. For resident license holders, 41 percent do not renew, while 63 percent of non-residents do not renew.
“R3” numbers: Retained anglers, those who purchased a license in a given year and the previous one, are about 52 percent of the angling population. Recruited anglers, those who bought a license in a given year but not in at least five of the preceding years, are about 28 percent. The number of reactivated anglers is about 18 percent, with 2 percent of records unidentifiable. These are anglers who bought a license in a given year and at least one of the previous five years, but not the immediate preceding year.
Female anglers lapse more: In recent years, the growing number of female anglers has received a great deal of attention, but the churn rate for women is still about 13 percent higher than the rate for men.
Younger anglers lapse more: Annual drop-out rates are lowest, about 39 percent, among the 55-64 age group, and are highest, about 55 percent, among anglers 18-24 years of age.
Urban residents lapse more: The drop-out rate among residents of urban communities, who make up about 10 percent of the angling population, is about 13 percent higher than those anglers living in rural communities and about 7 percent higher than those living in suburban communities.
Southwick Associates compiled and studied fishing license data over a 10-year period, from 2004-2013, and a five-year period, from 2009- 2013, from 12 states (CO, FL, GA, ME, MI, MN, MS, MT, NH, NY, UT, and WI) to provide a regionally and nationally representative portrait of anglers for this and future reports in the series.
The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) is the sportfishing industry’s trade association committed to representing the interests of the entire sportfishing community. We give the industry a unified voice, speaking out on behalf of sportfishing and boating industries, state and federal natural resource agencies, conservation organizations, angler advocacy groups and outdoor journalists when emerging laws and policies could significantly affect sportfishing business or sportfishing itself. ASA invests in long-term ventures to ensure the industry will remain strong and prosperous, as well as safeguard and promote the enduring social, economic and conservation values of sportfishing in America. ASA also gives America’s 60 million anglers a voice in policy decisions that affect their ability to sustainably fish on our nation’s waterways through KeepAmericaFishing™, our angler advocacy campaign. America’s anglers generate over $48 billion in retail sales with a $115 billion impact on the nation’s economy creating employment for more than 828,000 people.