I probably buy more fishing licenses than most people. Fishing in only a half dozen different states each year is a “slow” year for me and though I’ve never kept track, I’m sure I’ve had a year or two when I fished in twice that many states. I don’t object to paying for the privilege — even when I think it’s a bit expensive.
Due to the strict rules in effect regarding how fishing (and hunting) license fees can and can’t be used, it’s not like my $3.00 per day non-resident one-day license in West Virginia or my $26.90 per day non-resident tag for Pennsylvania is destined to fund roads, social welfare programs or higher education in either state. License funds charged by state fish and wildlife programs have to be dedicated to managing and enhancing the fish and wildlife populations in that state.
It’s an easy formula to follow — more license money collected — more money to fund fisheries work. However, there’s one side affect to consider in this formula. The cost of doing the work needed to get done by fisheries agencies goes up each year. License fees don’t go up each year — so the fish departments are always facing looming budget shortfalls.
The only thing which could mitigate this would be if these agencies were selling enough additional licenses each year to make up for the shortfalls. They aren’t. In most states, license sales are stagnant and even in states with growing populations the license sales aren’t growing along with the population.
There are lots of fingers pointing in lots of directions when it comes to figuring why license sales are static. There’s increased urbanization, more single parent homes, more emphasis on team sports and less on outdoor recreation in schools, Millenials and Gen X,Y or Z people are more attuned to digital entertainment than reality based opportunities to name a few.
Reversing many of these societal trends is beyond the scope of most fish and wildlife agencies or even fishing and hunting advocate groups. There’s one thing which could be changed at the agency level and that’s how their fishing and hunting licenses are sold.
Since I’m a frequent license buyer, I participate as a consumer in the process of buying a fishing license in different parts of the country. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of the “process” and I emphasize the word “process” purposely.
When’s the last time you went to a grocery store to undergo the “process” of purchasing enough food and supplies to make a meal? When’s the last time you purchased something online and when done you thought, “Whew, I’m glad I’m done with that ‘process.’”
If state fisheries departments are funded through license sales, why do they make getting a license a process? Is it a process to buy a ticket to a movie — online or at the box office? Is it a process to pay green fees to play a round of golf? It’s harder to find a parking place at major amusement parks than to pay the admissions fee.
Almost all state fisheries agencies have signed-on to the R3 agenda being promoted at the national level by the American Sportfishing Association. R3 stands for Recruit, Retain and Reactivate. Each agency has allocated thousands of dollars for R3 including hiring full-time R3 program personnel.
All these agencies have special events and programs to convince non-anglers to try fishing as a sport (R1), to convince this year’s license buyer to buy one next year (R2) and to convince people who once fished more or less regularly to start fishing again (R3). I’m not questioning any of these efforts, but each one of them starts with the “hassle” of buying a fishing license. I’m sure easing the licensing “process” would aid each of the three Rs.
There’s no reason purchasing a fishing or hunting license shouldn’t be as simple, quick and accessible as purchasing fishing equipment online to use on your next fishing trip or a sandwich at Subway to snack on while you are fishing.