Fishing? No thanks.

The news that younger Minnesotans are less likely to get hooked on fishing than their elders is sending ripples through the state's fishing industry.

The news that younger Minnesotans are less likely to get hooked on fishing than their elders is sending ripples through the state's fishing industry.

A recent study by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources showed that the percentage of Minnesotans ages 16-44 who bought fishing licenses dropped 10.7 percent from 2000 to 2005. And the overall percentage of Minnesotans older than 16 who bought a fishing license has dropped from nearly 40 percent in 1969 to 29 percent in 2005.

Last year alone, the state lost 4 percent of its anglers, said Dave Schad, director of the DNR's Division of Fish and Wildlife.

"It looks like we're not replacing anglers as fast as we're losing older anglers," Schad said at the DNR's annual Roundtable meeting in St. Cloud earlier this month.

Participation among younger Minnesotans also is dropping in hunting and wildlife-watching, according to the study. Those changes mirror national trends.


"The participation by young adults, people up to their early 40s, is less than that of older generations," said Tim Kelly, a DNR researcher who authored the DNR study. "The picture is becoming clearer and clearer. It's a pretty fast change."

The decline comes as bad news in a state where fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing contribute $2.7 billion to the state's economy. The DNR depends heavily on license sales to pay for its management activities, habitat improvement and enforcement.

"Certainly, it's going to affect conservation funding," Schad said. "Most important, hunters and anglers are the most passionate advocates for conservation. They're the ones walking the halls of the capitol."


The decline in fishing and hunting participation is about equal by gender and education levels, according to the DNR study. Declines tend to be larger for nonwhite populations than for whites, and declines tend to be greater in lower and middle-income brackets than for higher income brackets.

The increasingly urban population of Minnesota also contributes to the declines in outdoor activities, Kelly said. People in urban areas are less likely than those in other parts of the state to fish, hunt and watch wildlife, the study revealed.

"From 1900 to 2000, the rural population of Minnesota was always 1.3 million," Kelly said. "Every person added between 1900 and 2000 was an urban person."

The decrease in angling participation from 2000 to 2005 was greatest in central Minnesota, just north of the Twin Cities metro area. In the central region, license sales fell 12.1 percent from 2000 to 2005. License sales fell 6.3 percent in Northeastern Minnesota.


The state is expected to add about a million people over the next 25 years, Kelly said, and about half of those will be Hispanic or nonwhite, he said.


Numerous reasons have been put forth to explain why young people are fishing less. A U.S. Geological Survey/DNR study identified several factors that people see as constraints to their fishing activity. About 50 percent of anglers ages 20-29 said factors such as work, the expense of fishing, interest in other recreational activities and lack of fishing partners constrained their fishing.

"When I look through this pattern, what strikes me is that the constraints seem to be broad social phenomena," said David Fulton, who conducted the study for the USGS. "Those are things that are very difficult to address for a state management agency. It's not something that the DNR has done wrong."

"You read books on it, it's not any one thing," said Duluth's John Lindgren, a father of two daughters and a DNR fisheries specialist at French River. "Our society is moving away from hands-on with nature. It's almost a phobia. In towns, there's no untended nature, and if there was, parents won't let kids go there because everyone is so paranoid about something happening to their children."

Duluth's Glenn Merrick, an avid angler and a biology instructor at Lake Superior College, has seen fishing participation change in his lifetime.

"Even with my own kids," Merrick said, "they don't fish as much as I did. In part, it's the digital world. And everything that kids are involved in, whether it's athletics or something else, it's so much more intensively scheduled. It's grown from something that was seasonal to year-around."

"Random play has been replaced by organized activities," Lindgren said. "Now we have to cart our kids to soccer and football and gymnastics. None of those things are conducive to getting out in the woods to hunt or fish."


And young people have a lot more outdoor activities competing for their time than they did even 20 years ago.

"Just plain hiking and rock-climbing and kayaking and mountain-biking -- every single one of those things, 20 years ago, didn't have a toe-hold," Merrick said.

Both Merrick and Duluth freelance outdoors writer Michael Furtman think the sophistication of fishing may deter participation by younger people.

"I wonder if the way we've grown fishing to be so high-tech and so expensive has caused this," Furtman said. "It used to be people had a 14-foot boat and a 10-horse and a tackle box. It was accessible for any family. Now, if you don't have a great big boat and great big motor and all the electronics, it's not worth going. It's daunting."


Can the declines in youths fishing and hunting be turned around?

The DNR works to increase youth participation in fishing and hunting. For years, the state has held Take A Kid Fishing and Take a Kid Hunting weekends. The MinnAqua program educates youngsters about fishing through activities statewide. Special youth-only hunts are held for deer, wild turkey and waterfowl. The agency has a full-time employee in its Wildlife Management Section just to deal with hunter recruiting and retention.

The DNR's Schad says the agency will aggressively pursue ideas to increase youth participation. Among initiatives being considered are a mentoring program for young hunters and anglers through existing community programs, he said. The DNR also will propose legislation this session to allow young hunters to hunt for a year or two before passing firearms safety, as long as they're accompanied by a licensed hunter, Schad said.


"I don't think we're powerless to turn this around," he said.

Angling, hunting and conservation groups also work to bring youth into fishing and hunting by holding clinics, outings and contests.

"I think we've done an outstanding job trying to get kids involved in fishing," fishing guide Tom Neustrom of Grand Rapids said. "But these events don't seem to have carry-over."

He's concerned about the trend toward fewer young anglers.

"I don't see it turning around," he said. "It's a sad deal."

Fulton and others aren't sure participation can be increased by a state agency.

"I'm not very optimistic that we're going to make great strides in increasing participation," said Fulton, of the USGS. "It's a societal bus that's driving this trend."

Duluth's Merrick agrees.


"I'm hard-pressed to figure out how, given scheduling and time constraints that kids have these days, to reverse it," Merrick said.

Lindgren remains hopeful.

"As a society, for 500 years we've been trying to figure out how to get away from nature," he said. "I think we've peaked out on this technology and separation-from-nature thing. I think nature is going to get talked about a lot more because of global warming. We need a big cultural shift, and I think it's coming."

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