Aging fishermen

Some state fisheries and wildlife agencies are seeing a decline in numbers of older fishermen and hunters. A number of issues can cause people to step away from outdoor activities.

State fishing and wildlife agencies have for years been worried about license sales. In states like Texas it is where much of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s operational revenue comes from, including federal funding, but can also be a sign as to whatever future there is for fishing and hunting.

In the past the concern has always been about youth coming onboard. That was especially an issue during the Gen X generation, but oddly Millennials and even those younger have taken to hunting and fishing. For many it is not their father’s and grandfather’s fishing and hunting they are attracted to, but instead a chance to get outdoors or to bring food home to feed their family and friends.

What is concerning fish and wildlife agencies now is the disappearance of Baby Boomers, a generation that grew up outdoors but for some reason is not going as much anymore, if any. There is also concern about Gen Xers, the next aging generation. In a way, Gen X is already the missing demographic, because many did not take up fishing and hunting like their fathers, grandfathers and maybe even their own kids. Now that they are entering their 50s and beyond, their numbers are reportedly shrinking even more as work and other interests take precedent.

Nationwide fishing is taking the hardest hit. In 2000, states sold about 37.6 million fishing licenses. That number dropped to 29.1 last year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Hunting license sales have stayed fairly consistent during the same period at just over 15 million.

In Texas, license sales have remained fairly consistent at about 1.5 million fishermen and a million hunters. That includes about 130,000 to 150,000 youth hunters 16 and under. Youth fishermen are not required to have a license, so tracking their numbers is a little difficult, but a surge in youth fishing opportunity such as competitive high school fishing is a good sign.

When it comes to old folks 65 and over, Texas seems to be holding its own at the present. Super Senior Combo license sales have grown from just under 11,000 in 2001, the first year it was offered, to almost 81,000 last year.

In comparison, the Senior Resident Hunting License has fallen off the scale from 157,985 in 2009 to 25,000 last year. The question is: did those disappear or move to other options like the super combo or one of the hunting/fishing options that appeared in 2005? Last year, TPWD sold approximately 20,000 Senior Hunting/Freshwater Fishing options, 1,000 Senior Hunting/Saltwater Fishing licenses and 6,500 Senior Hunting/All Water Fishing licenses. Those numbers have been fairly consistent since those licenses became available.

Where there has been a significant jump is in the Senior Resident Freshwater Fishing license, which has climbed from 46,600 in 2005 to 61,400 last year. The department also sold about 13,000 Senior Resident Saltwater licenses last year, about the same as 2005, and 36,500 Senior Resident All Water licenses, more than double what was sold in 2005.

As someone who looks forward to buying their first Senior Super Combo in August, the drop in license numbers does not surprise me. There are a number of reasons, including an adjustment through time for those who traditionally bought licenses out of habit that they had quit using long ago. That dip usually occurs at the time of a price increase, but in retirement there also comes a point of reassessing expenses. Both fishing and hunting have gotten a lot more expensive in recent years. In some cases, the cost has just gotten to be too much of the available budget.

Responsive Management, a group that studies outdoor activities, said those who quit hunting and fishing usually do not do it all at once. Instead over time they just go less and less until they do not go anymore.

Those in pre-retirement find demands from work and family taking up more of their time than ever before. Their career is peaking, children are in college and they want to travel with their wife. All require time, money or both that may come before fishing and hunting.

For those in their retirement years, their old partners might have died or they become physically unable to go. Their children and grandchildren cannot get away like they once could.

To be honest, just the travel can be hard on an aging body, not to mention the effort it takes to launch and load a boat, or load and clean a deer. As you get older, the physical changes do not come in 10- or five-year increments as they once did. They come year-to-year or less.

Responsive Management also discovered that in reality most are not hardcore anglers and hunters when it comes to going anyway. According to a 2017 study, 62 percent of fishermen only went between once and 11 times a year. Only about 8 percent went fishing weekly.

The same is true for hunting. In a 2018 study looking at bow hunting, it was found 15 percent of bow hunters spent less than 15 days hunting and 35 spent less than 10, and these are considered the most hard-core of hunters.

Going forward this is probably going to be the norm as times and people change. The solution is to spend as much time possible outdoors now, involving the whole family and as many friends as you can take. The more you get others interested, the more the opportunity to go will be there.

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