Agencies nationwide hope new strategy will increase fishing license sales

Faced with declining fishing license sales and declining revenue to run their conservation operations, state fish and game agencies across the U.S. are turning to an old marketing ploy -- direct mail.

Faced with declining fishing license sales and declining revenue to run their conservation operations, state fish and game agencies across the U.S. are turning to an old marketing ploy -- direct mail.

Twenty states, including Minnesota and Iowa, will try direct mail marketing this spring, hoping to lure more prospective anglers to buy licenses.

It's a three-year effort, with this year's mailing aimed at "lapsed anglers,'' thousands of people who once purchased licenses but no longer do. In 2009, the effort will focus on keeping current anglers active. New anglers who haven't fished before will be targeted in 2010.

The effort also is hoped to generate awareness among the public that license sales pay for the bulk of conservation programs in most states.

Former Minnesota anglers can expect to get letters or postcards from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources sometime in April. Whether they read them, take action and buy a license, or throw them out, will determine the program's success.


"We have a history of great fish biologists but not so much great marketing,'' said C.B. Bylander, outreach section chief for the Minnesota DNR's Fish and Wildlife Division. "We're hoping to change that some.''

The marketing program is being offered free to the states by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, a group of fishing-related industries that also are feeling the pinch of fewer people fishing. States will pay part of the mailing costs.

Each state will get computer software and hands-on training this month that, coupled with computerized license sale mailing lists each state already has, will show them how to reach their target audiences.

Heather Sieber, communications director for the foundation, said the 20 states will mail about 1.5 million pieces before their prospective fishing seasons start this spring. With a 25 percent response rate, the effort could bring back about 375,000 lapsed anglers.

At an average of $15.14 per license sold in those states, an extra $5.6 million would be pumped into the state agencies, of which about 80 percent goes to conservation projects.

Up to 30 states could participate in the program by summer, Sieber said.

The foundation's most recent pilot project in Minnesota, conducted in 2007, generated a 20.3 percent response rate and is credited with selling an additional 9,846 fishing licenses -- about $160,000. A resident license costs $17.

The crisis brewing in lost interest, participation and revenue from hunting and fishing isn't new to state agencies.


According to a well respected report issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service every five years, about 30 million Americans fished in 2006, down 15 percent from 35 million in 2001. Anglers spent $41 billion in 2006, down 16 percent from 1996. Only about 15 percent of U.S. residents now fish.

In Minnesota, the number of anglers dropped from 1.6 million in 2001 to 1.4 million in 2006, almost 12 percent over five years. That number includes nonresident anglers.

Bylander said that Minnesota still is among the top five fishing destination states in the nation and still is No. 1 in the percentage of residents who fish. But even as the state's population has nearly doubled, a smaller percentage are fishing -- only 28 percent in 2006, down from 40 percent in the 1950s.

"We had pretty good success with the pilot project last year,'' Bylander said. "And we've done some other things, like billboards, to try and generate some excitement about this great Minnesota pastime.''

The biggest concern among natural resource experts is that far fewer young people are buying licenses in many states, boding poorly for the future of current conservation efforts.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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