License woes continue; many agents opting out

At the beginning of the year I gave a pat on the back to the state for initiating a new license fee structure and a new licensing system that was supposed to make things easier for purchasing a license and reducing sporting license costs to attract more people to our outdoor heritage – residents and nonresidents alike. Alas, here it is more than 10 months later and the new license system still isn’t resolved. While the license fee reduction was a great idea, what good is it if no one knows about it or, worse yet, they get here and can’t purchase one? Yes, that’s happening more than you realize. I’ve seen it firsthand several times here in Niagara County.

Where do we even start? The system might be the logical place. A new company and system was needed when DEC could no longer renew an existing contract with Verizon. Since that time it’s been a comedy of errors, from problems with the paper to problems with the system. While the system has been getting better, the actual processing of the licenses for issuing agents has become even more labor intensive. They are frustrated and many town and village clerks are thinking about getting out of the license-selling business. There are roughly 1,200 license issuing agents in the state right now and DEC is scrambling to add more. This is down from 1,500 when Verizon had the contract. Some would argue that they are not scrambling fast enough because I know of one business that has been trying to become an agent for six months – in an area that has only one village clerk selling licenses during regular business hours. That just doesn’t cut it.

Compounding the problem is that some agents like Wal-Mart are claiming that their printer is down because it takes so long to process a license. It’s not worth their time. We’ve had people come into the area to fish, tried to purchase a license online and they were just not savvy enough on the computer to figure it out. So they tried to buy a license locally. After several tries, they just gave up, leaving one woman from Idaho in tears. I don’t think she will be back any time soon. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. It should be easy. Just push the easy button. No such luck.

Many people have been able to figure out the online system or call Albany on the phone to get their licenses. Online licenses are up. Something like 20 percent of all the licenses purchased are via the Internet now. That said, the state is missing out in another important area – marketing. We’ve lost critical data in that nonresident anglers are purchasing a license and we don’t know where they are fishing. And we can’t utilize the data as to where they are coming from, either. On top of that, the information just sits in a computer doing nothing.

The Lake Ontario Sportfishing Promotion Council has been lobbying DEC in Albany to add a question that asks them where they intend to fish. They ask for something as simple as a zip code. They keep driving into a brick wall. LOSPC  wants more information as to where these anglers are coming from so they can do some focused marketing in particular areas. No cooperation from the state. In the meantime, you buy a license in places like Florida or Ohio and they immediately put you on an email list that gives you regular updates on natural resource issues, including fishing reports and seasonal updates. How cool is that! Imagine, marketing your natural resources to the masses. Whatever database DEC had from online sales the past four to five years or longer (and it had to be large), past license holders should have received an announcement on the license fee reductions.

While we are still a long way off determining how far behind we are on license sales, as of August we were off by $3.5 million in revenue. Resident fishing license sales were down by 22 percent and one- and seven-day licenses were down by over 50 percent. Nonresident annual licenses were actually up by 4 percent, but one- and seven-day licenses were down by 26 percent. I don’t think it’s going to be pretty when it’s all said and done. We need to make this a priority right now before the damage to the Conservation Fund is so severe that it impacts fish and wildlife programs negatively for long term.

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