Fishing license sales flat; gas prices, weather factor

By Steve
Piatt
Editor

Albany — Fishing license sales seem to be holding steady in New
York this season, despite high gas prices and some cold, wet
weather this spring.

Doug Stang, chief of the DEC’s Bureau of Fisheries, said license
sales to date — the license year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 —
are on par with the 2002-03 and 2003-04 license years, when just
short of one million licenses were sold.

“To date, we’re at 574,839 licenses sold,” Stang said. “That
breaks down to 523,754 resident licenses, and 51,085 non-resident
licenses. We sell a significant number of licenses after April 1
(New York’s trout season opening date), so it looks at this point
that we’re about on par with the last two years.”

Stang said weather may have played at least some factor in
license sales; the spring has been generally marked by cold, wet
weather that has slowed trout fishing in many areas.

“If the sun would come out, that would help a bit,” he said.

New York sold 979,459 fishing licenses in 2003-04 — 824,468
resident licenses and another 154,991 to non-residents. Those
figures compare to 982,398 licenses in 2002-03, with 827,320
residents and 155,078 non-resident permits.

While the numbers are relatively flat from year to year, Stang
said the faces of the anglers change significantly from one season
to the next.

Ohio and Oklahoma conducted studies on fishing license purchases
and found, as has New York, that there’s a high turnover from year
to year. Many anglers buy licenses one year but don’t the following
season, but new license buyers seem to fill the void.

“We have a fairly high turnover — what we call a ‘churn,'”
Stang said. “Looking at 2002-03 we found we had about 28 percent of
the resident license buyers and 58 percent of the non-residents did
not buy a license in 2003-04. Right now, it’s about 25 and 55
percent (license purchasers of 2003-04 who have not bought a
license this season).”

Stang said several factors could be involved in that turnover.
Some casual anglers may choose to play golf the following year or
pursue another activity. Non-resident license buyers may shift
their fishing travel focus to another state or region.

And, he adds, some anglers actually forget to buy their
license.

“New York is a little different; we don’t operate on a calendar
year,” he said. “Some people just forget to purchase a license, or
they think it’s good for the entire year.”

As is the case with hunting license sales, there remains a
concern for the future of the sport. The number of young anglers
isn’t at the level DEC would like, and like the hunting fraternity,
it’s an aging group of anglers.

“It’s also a concern on the fishing side, just as it is with
hunting,” Stang said. “The average age of our anglers in 2002-03
was 46 for the females and 48 for the males. To put it in fisheries
terms, we’d be very concerned with the year class.”

In an attempt to lure young anglers — and other new fishermen
and women — to the sport, DEC has annual Free Fishing Days, set
this year for June 25-26. Each region also has programs designed to
attract youths; in New York City (Region 2), those efforts have
even reached the classroom.

The education and outreach is a challenge, Stang admitted, at
current staffing levels. And it’s a huge challenge in today’s
society.

“There are so many different opportunities for kids to be doing
other things,” Stang said. “So many activities and other outlets
for their attention. Once we introduce to the sport, hopefully
they’ll be hooked for life.”

Stang’s ace in the hole is the quality of New York’s fishing.
With two Great Lakes, the state’s storied place in fly-fishing
history and hallowed waters of the Catskills, and the saltwater
opportunities available, fishing often takes a higher profile than
hunting in New York.

“The fishing is absolutely fantastic,” Stang said, “both in the
diversity of the resources and the quality.”

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