Can Maine Bring Back Lost Anglers?

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 I’ve been told that the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is undertaking a project to figure out how to get nonresident anglers who no longer come here to fish to return to Maine. I suggested that they check out an August 2011 study that includes recommendations to do just that.

In 2011, The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and DIF&W hired Brett and Jen Levin to figure out how Maine could appeal to more anglers. The Levins found that “the biggest opportunity for Maine will be found in developing a comprehensive economic analysis of recreational fishing, engaging in strategic partnerships, and developing a cohesive marketing plan backed up with sufficient resources to enable the plan’s implementation.”

The Levins looked at what other states are doing to attract anglers, including detailed surveys that states were conducting with freshwater anglers.

The study contained many good recommendations. For example, the Levins found that “Florida, Wisconsin, Montana and New York have participated in partnership with the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation which targets lapsed anglers. The approach is focused on the Recapture, Recruit, Retain theory.” The Foundation even paid for their radio ads.

I was interested in Florida’s 5-year license promotion which they implemented in 2006. The agency gets the same money for the license overall, but reduces administrative costs. Buyers also receive a value-added package of give-aways including lures, sunscreen, coupons, and more. Base sales increased seven-fold.

Wisconsin focused on continuing to make fishing better, and was found to be number one in regaining lapsed anglers. Yes, great fishing could bring them back. They also enacted a trout stamp to provide better funding for their initiatives.

Montana does very little stocking, and when they do it is mostly in lakes and ponds. New York moved fishing closer to the people, making a lot of small ponds into no-kill areas so they don’t get fished out, a strategy that was successful in creating opportunity for more people. The state also manages a program in 225 classrooms on topics including biology and fishing skills.

There was some good news in the study. The Levins reported that “Maine has a resident participation rate of 16.5% which is 3.5% above the national participation rate and 5.5% above the New England participation rate.” They also reported that our Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife “does comparatively well with license sales, angler recruitment, retention, and satisfaction.”

Recommendations

The study offers several excellent recommendations, noting that “Maine must understand the real economic impacts of recreational fishing… The state’s natural resources are unique and supreme, yet many rural communities continue to suffer a slow economic death.”

“The state should commission an economic analysis of both the existing and the potential economic benefits of recreational fishing,” was one recommendation.

Another was “The state should convene representatives within and among these major groups to develop a cohesive and focused plan that works to the benefit of all.”

And a third was perhaps the most important. “The state should find dollars, perhaps be dedicating a percentage of license sales, to engage a national professional marketing and public relations firm that will inform and implement a targeted and effective marketing plan.”

The Levins noted that DIF&W “does not have marketing expertise,” and therefore “should continue to focus on the effective management of its fishing resources.”

Marketing

I’ve tried for two legislative sessions in a row to re-establish the marketing position at DIF&W, but the agency has opposed and killed my bills. They had a marketing position until about 10 years ago with Bill Pierce left that job. Shortly after that they abolished the marketing position, and they don’t seem to think they have any responsibility for marketing hunting and fishing in Maine.

They are now undertaking an expensive “communications and marketing” initiative, which doesn’t actually have anything to do with marketing. They are putting together a team of consulting businesses to help them convince the public that they are doing a good job.

It’s my hope that the folks working on a new initiative to bring anglers back to Maine will take a look at the Levins study and recommendations, and understand that marketing recreational fishing is very important.

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