A couple of years ago NOAA Fisheries revealed statistics showing the number recreational fishing trips had fallen from 72.1 million excursions in 2013 to just 63.5 million trips in 2016. Regulations being what they are with shortened seasons, lower bag limits, and increasing size restrictions, an 11% drop in angler participation isn’t that surprising.
What was shocking about NOAA’s 2016 U.S. Recreational Fisheries Economic Impact Trend analysis was that despite the drop in trips, NOAA also showed a 12% increase in employment and 16% increase in recreational fishing sales. Typical gubment math, I get it. Just remember that NOAA Fisheries is managed under the U.S. Department of Commerce, where I’m fairly certain every other American industry that tracks a loss in participation or production also registers a statistically-proven decrease in sales and employment.
You can imagine my cynicism last December when NOAA Fisheries released yet another enchanted assessment of U.S Recreational Fisheries Economics, this time for 2017. With magic calculators in hand, NOAA staffers found a staggering uptick in angling participation, with 8.6 million saltwater anglers nationwide making a 202 million fishing trips! This threefold increase in participation is based on new estimates from the allegedly overhauled angler surveys (MRIP) which apparently shows saltwater anglers as being far more active than originally estimated.
I asked the good folks at NOAA if the threefold increase in participation also meant that the recreational fishing industry saw triple the income and employment as previously stated in their estimates. They said they’d get back to me; then came the government shutdown and the sound of chirping crickets. I stopped holding my breath in late January. It doesn’t really matter much as our local tackle shops and captains have told me everything I need to know.
Unlike the fed, state stats offer a more reasoned and realistic perspective. In 2012 before Superstorm Sandy hit, there were 270,440 saltwater anglers registered through the state’s free angler registry, another 1,098 for-hire operators getting blanket coverage for their patrons. Those numbers took a hit in 2013 and have continued to fall. According to the actual registrations, New Jersey went from 178,307 saltwater anglers (835 for-hire) in 2016 to just 164,332 anglers (817 for-hire) in 2017. NOAA Fisheries on the other hand pegs those numbers as being up to five times higher. The federal numbers are highly suspect, especially considering the Department of Interior shows tax income from the Sportfish Restoration Fund and associated tackle/fuel sales has been mostly stagnant. It just leaves this particular cynic wondering where the Department of Commerce’s whopping increase in new opportunities and sales comes from, and where the bags of money are being deposited.
Look, I don’t mean to be the voice of doom, I just believe that saltwater anglers and supporting businesses deserve a little better than hyper-inflated federal statistics. Unlike activities like golf, bowling, or playing video games, national policy and politics play a huge part in what we do as anglers. Sadly, the federal agency that governs our passion is less of a help, more of a hindrance.
The government shutdown caused widespread panic amidst catastrophic national headlines; it certainly had a trickle down impact within the private sector. But fret not for our friends at NOAA, as they’ll still get paid for every day of work missed during the shutdown, just as they are paid for their bang up job on those days when our government is theoretically open for business.
Bitter? Yeah, I guess I am. It’s just that every time I think back to the arbitrary government shutdown of our black sea bass fishery in the fall of 2009 and the fed’s refusal to reopen the January/February fishery without concessions, I wonder about those private citizens forced out of work without “entitlement” to lost wages. These are the very same folks who have yet to return to the recreational fishery, despite NOAA’s incredibly boastful statistics that claim otherwise.