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Here's Why Fishing, Hunting Participation Increasing

Take Me Fishing program is paying benefts.

Preliminary results from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey recently revealed that participation has increased for both fishing and hunting since 2006.

Here’s a brief analysis of why by Southwick Associates:

 When the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently reported the number of hunters grew by 9 percent since 2006 and the number of anglers grew by 11 percent in that same time frame, sportsmen and the sporting industry were thrilled.

The numbers, which are preliminary results released as the initial look into the USFWS’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, reversed what had been dropping participation levels in fishing over the past 10 years and indicated the first jump in hunter numbers in more than two decades. But what were the reasons for the turnaround?

Rob Southwick, president of Southwick Associates, which is a leading research and data analysis firm focused on the sportfishing and hunting industries, says the evidence points to several key factors.

“The slow economy has certainly had an impact”, says Southwick. “When the economy took a hit, a lot of people went back to enjoying more traditional activities that were also less costly than other options. Fishing license sales and tackle sales data all back that up.”

In addition to simple economics, on-going efforts to recruit new anglers are paying off. Southwick points to programs such as the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing National Campaign, which has been instrumental in introducing the sport to thousands of new anglers. Demographic shifts are also having an impact.

“Initial feedback indicates more baby boomers may be taking to the water”, says Southwick. The company and the USFWS will be looking at additional data in the coming months to identify other potential trends among youth and other segments of the angling community.

“We’ll be looking closely for shifts in youth and female participation. By the end of the year, we’ll know more”, says Southwick.

On the hunting side, the growth in participation is due to the same factors where the economy and recruitment programs are concerned.

“This is the first measured large increase in the number of hunters in years”, says Southwick. “Conservation and firearms industry organizations have been particularly effective at communicating the benefits of hunting.”

Organizations such as the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance all have programs geared toward growing youth and overall participation and have even teamed up to ease age restrictions that deterred many young people from participating in hunting. Additionally, expanded hunting opportunities such as allowing the use of crossbows in a number of states has made hunting more attractive to many new and returning hunters.

“Probably one of the most significant changes has been an apparent cultural shift regarding the acceptance and use of firearms,” says Southwick. Whether hunting or target shooting, many younger adults in their twenties and early thirties, are taking to shooting sports. Firearms sales have been strong for four years. Whether this is attributable to returning soldiers with a newly found appreciation of the shooting sports or to adults who want to get outside after spending too much of their youth indoors, we need to learn more about the reasons behind the increase”, says Southwick.

Southwick says there will be more details to come as his team reviews the data to identify more trends behind the growth in hunting and fishing and offers organizations the insight to keep these trends headed in a positive direction.


Raising Our Rods for Waters Across North America

Recycled Fish's 24 Hour Fish-A-Thon is coming up in early September.  This fast-growing event does so many good things for fishing that I hope you will choose a team and support it. (Full discloure: I'm on the board of directors for Recycled Fish.)

Here's more about the event, including how you can help protect and enhance our fisheries:

The problems facing our waters are many and varied – just like the anglers who are uniting to raise awareness for those problems, and raising money to solve them. Never before has such a large group of anglers – 50 teams across North America – joined the Recycled Fish 24 Hour Fish-A-Thon presented by Berkley Fishing. This Sept. 7 at 7 p.m., these intrepid anglers will make their first casts and then fish for 24 hours continuously – each team on its own home waters.

In Alaska, “Team Urbanite” is made up of two couples, Jarred and Renee Behrendt, and Pete and Monika Odren. They want to raise awareness about the Susitna River Dam, a $5 billion hydroelectric proposal that would dam the Susitna river to produce electricity, at the expense of a world-class salmon fishery.

“Other energy options would generate an equal amount of electricity at a lower cost without putting our valuable fisheries at risk,” says Jarred Behrendt. “We seek to educate others on these alternatives and raise awareness about the implications of building this dam.”


Sean Gage and his brother Ryan formed Team Catch and Release to help California's Lake Cunningham.

Several thousand miles south in California, “Team Catch and Release” is made up of brothers Sean and Ryan Gage. They love to fish – and both are autistic. That’s why they earned a $250 donation from an organization called My Little Buddy’s Boat, which bridges the gap between fishing and kids on the autism spectrum. The Gage brothers are concerned with the trash that they see at their favorite fishing spots, so they are raising awareness about cleaning it up. They’re raising funds for Stewardship Kits that they can distribute to their fellow fishermen and encourage them to be custodians of our waters..

“This event gives a voice to the boys’ passion,” says Katie Gage, the boys’ mother. “These boys care so deeply for nature. They humble me. We are blessed that they are high functioning, but they struggle. Ryan also has a rare blood disease that requires him receive treatment bi monthly through a port in his chest. When the Make a Wish Foundation offered him a wish he simply stated, ‘I have all I need.’”

Down on the Gulf Coast, Ben Weber and Jared Serigne are “Team Vanishing Paradise.” They’re raising awareness and funds to restore the Mississippi Delta, which is disappearing at an alarming rate – a football field every hour. It is one of this nation’s most important ecosystems for fish and wildlife—and one of its most endangered.

“If we don’t act soon,” says Weber, “the Delta as we know it will be gone forever, and with it a way of life. We’ll be losing an economic engine, the breeding ground for much of North America’s waterfowl and the fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico … and one of our national treasures.”

On the East Coast, four friends, Leo, Mike, Rob and Jay, make up “Team Philly Extreme Fishing.” They ply the urban waterways of Philadelphia, Pa., and what they see in the Schuylkill River worries them. Material pollution – trash – is a visible reminder of the invisible issues going on in the water. Point and non-point source pollution make the fish unsafe to eat, and hurt the population. Meanwhile, anglers harvest fish in a way that limits the potential of the fishery.

“Our goal is at the heart of what Recycled Fish does,” says team leader Leo Sheng. “Educating anglers about how to be better stewards of our waters, both on and off the water, because our lifestyle runs downstream. It’s good to remember that 50 percent of the funds we raise help Recycled Fish’s national mission, and the other half goes to help the Schuylkill River in specific, tangible ways through the Schuylkill River Development Corporation.”

Other teams are raising awareness and funds for combating invasive species in Vermont, water consumption issues in Colorado, access issues in Utah, youth fishing initiatives in Nebraska, habitat issues in Iowa, and pollution issues in Florida, to name a few.

Half of the dollars that each team raises directly funds a local solution for its local problem, either through Recycled Fish or another local non-profit organization working on the issue. The other half supports Recycled Fish’s national work to remedy the same kinds of situations across North America by engaging, educating and equipping anglers to be stewards of our waters.

At the same time, these 50 fishing teams are vying for prizes, like the fishing trips of a lifetime to jaw-dropping destinations. Spring Bay Resort on Lake Vermillion in Minnesota, FishTales Outfitting in Sheridan, Montana, and Hudson’s On The Spot Guide Service in Wisconsin, await teams that raise the most funds or catch the most fish. Other prizes from Berkley Fishing, Shakespeare, Castalia Outdoors, DICK’S Sporting Goods, Dragon’s Custom Rods, Aqua Design, and wildlife artist Curt Redden are also on the line for challenges ranging from the team that collects the most trash to the angler who takes the best “hero shot” photo.

“We couldn’t be more grateful to these anglers who are doing something so challenging,” said Teeg Stouffer, Recycled Fish Executive Director. “They all love to fish, but this is the angling equivalent of running a marathon. Now we hope that people will get behind what they’re doing to lend their financial support, and to pay attention to these critical issues. At stake aren’t just our favorite fishin’ holes. We’re talking about our drinking water.”

Although the registration deadline has come and gone for this year’s event, anyone can support the teams by visiting the Recycled Fish website: Each team has its own page, which introduces the fishing team and the water they’re fishing, the problem facing that water, and simple ways to fix that problem. Online donations to the team can be made right on that page, or instructions for donating with check by mail are available on each page as well.

The 24 Hour Fish-A-Thon action will be reported real-time through the Recycled Fish Facebook page and by following hashtag #24FAT on Twitter this September 7 & 8.


Walmart Heirs Allied With Obama Administration in Anti-Fishing Agenda

Anti-fishing is well represented in President Obama’s administration, and, as I pointed out yesterday, its advocates will be even more aggressive should this President win a second term.

They will have plenty of support too. Not in terms of numbers; recreational fishing is viewed favorably by a vast majority of people. But in terms of finances; preservationists --- those who believe that we should exist apart from nature, as opposed to as a part of nature --- have deep pockets, and they are spending millions to keep us from fishing.

About a year ago, the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) pointed to the Walton Family Foundation as one of the worst, even though Walmart stores are eager to sell fishing tackle to anglers.

“Shopping for fishing equipment at Walmart is contributing directly to the demise of our sport, it’s supporting lost fishing opportunities and decreased coastal access for all Americans,” said RFA Executive Director Jim Donofrio.

 “I hope all RFA members across the country will remember that when it’s time to gear up, but I would also wonder if perhaps our industry can help spread the message and support our local tackle shops by also pulling product off Walmart’s shelves.” 

In the wake of that revelation, the National Legal and Policy Center explained Walmart ties to the green movement in an article with the headline “Walmart Heirs Fund Anti-Fishing Activists.”

Here’s an excerpt:

“The bulk of the foundation’s grants have gone to many of the usual suspects within environmental extremism: Environmental Defense Fund, World Wildlife Fund, National Audubon Society, American Rivers, Ocean Conservancy, and Marine Stewardship Council, among others. The New Jersey-based Recreational Fishing Alliance calls the substantive gifts an attempt to ‘fund the demise of both the recreational and commercial fishing industry,’ noting especially Ocean Conservancy’s desire to eliminate access.”

And there’s more. Much more. Stay tuned to the Activist Angler to learn what we’re up against.

Also, remember that a vote for President Obama in November is a vote against recreational fishing and a vote for the preservationist movement embraced by the Walton Family Foundation and other philanthropists whose views don’t reflect those of the majority of Americans.  


Four More Years Would Be Disaster for Recreational Fishing


Many in the outdoor media are critical of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives for cutting or attempting to cut funds for various federal conservation programs.

I’m not one of them.

Yes, I would like that funding to continue. Yes, I believe that we could continue to finance those programs despite the budget deficit --- if we could eliminate the billions in fraud and waste perpetrated by corrupt politicians who are so adept at spending other people’s money. But that is as likely to happen as teaching pigs to fly so that we can save shipping costs for ham and bacon.

Republicans elected to the House in 2010 --- many of them supported by Tea Party affiliates --- went to Washington, D.C., with the intent of shrinking government, reducing taxes, and cutting back on spending.

I support that agenda and, sadly, realize that enacting it will mean reduced budgets for all if we are to avoid the collapse of our economy because of insurmountable debt.

On the other hand, four more years of Obama will push us to the precipice of economic collapse, with Greece providing us with a preview of what could happen here.

Meanwhile, many of those same folks in the outdoor media have been ignoring the threat that four more years of this president also will pose for recreational fishing.

Let’s start with funding. States finance their fisheries programs primarily with license fees and money collected as excise taxes on tackle, equipment, and motorboat fuel through the federal Sport Fish Restoration Program. If the first four years are any indication --- and I believe that they are --- a second term would be catastrophic for our economy and, by extension, the fishing industry. That could mean less money for fisheries management, as anglers cut back on discretionary spending to make ends meet. 

The National Ocean Policy is the 500-pound gorilla in the room. By-passing Congress with an Executive Order, Obama has created a massive bureaucracy that will tell us where we can and cannot fish through a strategy called “marine spatial planning.” In reality, it is death by a thousand cuts for angling, as one fishery after another will be shut down by nameless bureaucrats.

Catch Shares is a second strategy pushed by this administration to limit access. Supposedly, it is being done for conservation. In reality, it is a scheme to privatize a public resource, as “shares” of an ocean fishery are allotted to individuals and/or companies. Right now, mostly it is directed at species harvested commercially. But if incorporated into “mixed” (commercial and recreation) fisheries, it will limit participation, as the sport sector will be limited to the same fixed amount each year.

The National Ocean Policy and Catch Shares are brought to us by preservationists from environmental groups that Obama has brought into his administration. Special interests aren’t just influencing public policy; they are setting it. 

If this President gets a second term, look for de-emphasizing of sport fisheries programs within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies, attempts to reduce access for anglers and hunters by establishment of land and marine preserves, and renewed boldness by anti-fishing groups that want to ban lead fishing tackle.

Also, look for this administration to continue “searching” for a solution that will keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, as it sides with Illinois in opposing the obvious solution --- closing the manmade connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basin. Eliminating that entry/exit not only would help keep carp out, but it would prevent other invasives from moving between the two systems.

I don’t know if Romney/Ryan would be any better about policy regarding this last issue. But I suspect that they would, given that Ryan, now a representative from Wisconsin, is both an angler and a hunter and would have a better appreciation of the value of the Great Lakes sport fishery. He also is a member of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus.

What I do know is that this President is not a friend of angling. He might not be personally against it, but many in his administration either have no regard for it or they do oppose it. That, combined with four more years of economic hardship for this country, would be crushing for recreational fishing.

Please keep that in mind when you go to the polls in November.  And if you are an angler who usually does not vote, I hope that this will motivate you to do so. 


Carp Are Doing Damage Even When You Don't See Them

These bighead carp were damaging a Missouri pond without the owner even knowing they were there. USGS photo.

The Journal Sentinel offers an in-depth look about the search for techniques to track Asian carp. But first, it presents this anecdote that typifies damage that invasive species can cause with little or no realization of what’s going on:

A fish pond in Missouri reveals just how stealthy Asian carp can be.

Maybe an acre in size, the pond had been stocked with catfish, bass and bluegills. The owner was pumping it full of fish food, yet the fish appeared to be starving. So in early 2010 the owner called in a consultant. 

"They came out with electrofishing gear, caught some fish and looked at them," said Duane Chapman, one of the country's leading Asian carp experts and a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "The fish were emaciated and he didn't know why. He said, 'There's something wrong here. We need to start over again.' They brought in rotenone and completely killed the pond."

Over the next week, the rotting carcasses of about 300 bighead carp surfaced. The smallest were 20 pounds. The big ones were a border collie-sized 35 pounds. Poisoned Asian carp, Chapman explained, are different from many fish species in that they typically don't surface unless the water is warm enough for gases to build up in their bellies, a process that can take a week.

"It was quite amazing there could be that much poundage in one small pond," Chapman said.

It turned out that a decade earlier the previous property owner had stocked the pond with bighead. They had flourished right under the nose of the new owner, who had smelled trouble - but couldn't see a thing.

I found the story especially interesting because grass carp --- illegally introduced by lakefront property owners who should be arrested --- have done the same thing to the small lake behind my house. Those carp, most of them 20 pounds and more, make up the majority of the biomass.

And just as an acre of land can grow only so many bushels of corn, a lake can sustain only so many pounds of fish. As a result, the bass and catfish in my little lake grow slowly, if at all, with the bulk of the bass being 12 inches or less.

Will what has happened in that pond and my lake also occur if/when Asian carp move into the Great Lakes?

Do we really want to wait and see what happens, endangering a billion-dollar sport fishery? The time is long past due to close the manmade connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basin. Right now, it provides an open door for invasive species to migrate from one system to another.