- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 11, 2006

Not long ago the American Sportfishing Association sent out some alarming survey news. “Angler numbers are on the upswing,” it said, which will result in a loud, reverberating but tongue-in-cheek groan.

Why? No fisherperson worth a can of Vienna sausages likes to hear that participant numbers are on the increase. If you’ve ever tried to launch a boat on a warm Saturday morning at any of our town’s public launch ramps, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a madhouse.

The same is true of the few public shoreline fishing areas in these parts, as well as any of the public fishing piers in Chesapeake Bay country.

That aside, I’m kind of glad to hear the news, but purely for self-serving purposes. If more people wet a line, more people will read the paper, and there is the possibility — however remote — that a hefty pay raise might be on the way.

On a more serious note, it is indeed good news to hear that angler numbers are beginning to perk up. Well more than half a million more Americans bought a fishing license in 2004 than in 2003. The figures we have available are from the latest Southwick survey that says 27,908,272 people bought licenses in 2003 but by 2004 that number increased to 28,499,206.

“Yeah, and sometimes I believe that every one of those licensees is on the Potomac River come April or May,” said Joe Greer, a pal who is prone to overstatement — although it does indeed seem that busy some days.

What worries industry groups, fishing tackle promoters, national dues-collecting fishing clubs and state fisheries offices is that if the day ever comes when the fishing business dries up, it could be catastrophic.

It’s a cinch that fish & game departments would have to deal with it most harshly since much of their operating funds come from license monies. They’d have to do the General Motors and Ford thing. Can you imagine government workers being laid off? Heaven forbid, is that even possible?

And imagine what would happen to thousands of mom-and-pop tackle shops, large chains, mail-order firms and the tackle manufacturers. Talk about a shot heard around the world. They’d cry their eyes out from Bangladesh to Taiwan, and from Mexico to Communist China because that’s where most of our fishing tackle is made these days.

Americans can point to a grand total of 38,421,267 fishing licenses, tags, permits and stamps being sold every year — not counting millions of exempt anglers like children under 16, some old-timers and landowners who fish their own waters — and the gross $540,933,776 spent on that alone. Then start counting the billions of associated sales. Add all the motel and hotel rooms paid for by fishermen who visit new locations, food, gasoline, bait, boat rental, charter fishing costs, etc. Why, bass fishing alone is worth more $30 billion a year and anglers’ contributions for conservation amount to $540 million annually.

One of every 10 Americans has a fishing license. I wouldn’t mind if one out of every five bought a permit.

There are sound reasons for increasing the numbers of American anglers. Never mind worrying about enriching the usually anemic economies of Third World countries. (If I had my way, not one American job would ever be lost to foreigners who are willing to do everything cheaper. I’d prefer to see rods, reels, line and fishing lures made right here, and I’d gladly pay the extra bucks for them.)

The increases in fishing participants could result in the recreational angling community wielding almost indescribable political clout. If sport fishermen ever banded together and for the moment ignored their allegiance to a trout, bass, steelhead, salmon, striper or what-have-you organization, they could elect the next president of the United States. Sadly, each organization has its own power structure, salaried directors and secretaries, and the possible influence they could have if they spoke with one voice is selfishly lost.

Well, I’ll do my part to increase the ranks. I already have a daughter and a granddaughter who love to fish. I also have two grandsons who’ll be zipping lures or baits from their spinning rods when the dogwoods bloom.

May our tribe increase.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.


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