Startling is the word that comes to mind.
For the last several years we’ve been hearing a lot about “churn,” the habit of some fishing licenses buyers to come and go. They buy a license one year, but maybe not the next, or two out of three years, or something similar.
But wow. Wow.
Southwick Associates, an outdoor recreation and economics research form, looked at license sales patterns in 12 states: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Mississippi, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Utah, and Wisconsin. It examined data from the 10-year period from 2004 to 2013.
Results were recently released in a report titled “U.S. Angler Population, Who Comes and Who Goes.”
It found that only 4 percent of anglers bought a license every year for 10 years straight.
By comparison, 49 percent of fishermen bought a license just once in a decade. The “typical” angler bought a license about three times out of every 10 years.
In any given year, the study added, 44 to 48 percent of license buyers are people who didn’t get one the year before.
Where are all the diehards? That’s what numbers like those make you wonder.
Some groups are more prone to churn than others, the research found.
Young anglers, ages 18 to 24, are most likely to fall out of the ranks. Fifty-five percent drop out in a given year. That makes sense. They’re either just joining the work force or away at school, and it can be tough to fish.
But women anglers drop out more frequently than men, and urban anglers drop out more frequently than rural and suburban ones.
The numbers speak to a glass half empty, glass half full situation.
The downside to having so many customers come and go is lost money, said Rob Southwick, president of Southwick Associates.
“Perhaps the biggest impacts are realized by state game and fish departments who directly lose revenue from lost license sales, along with the lost excise taxes collected in the sale of fishing gear and boat fuels. These monies are used to support fisheries and habitat work, as well as build and maintain sportfishing infrastructure such as of public piers and boat ramps,” he said.
Others lose out, too.
Companies that make boats, tackle, rods and other fishing gear, guide services, hotels and local communities that cater to anglers all suffer, he said.
The American Sportfishing Association, which paid for the research, said the good news is that the pool of people who consider themselves anglers – and who have in the past spent their time and money on the sport – is larger than probably anyone realized. That means lots of potential customers at least exist.
It said it hopes to work with stakeholders to develop strategies for improving retention rates.
Southwick has some other studies related to this subject on the way. They deal with which types of anglers are at greatest risk of not coming back, how to keep them engaged and lifestyles of various angler segments.