Participation in Minnesota’s hallowed fishing tradition is down once again, according to license data released Tuesday by the state Department of Natural Resources.
Through the weekend after July 4th, the DNR sold 805,242 fishing licenses of all kinds. That was down about 41,000 licenses, or 4.8 percent, from the same period a year ago. It’s also the second-lowest fishing license sales number on record for this period in the past 19 years. The only number lower came in 2013, when the DNR sold 800,337 angling licenses through the weekend after July 4.
Jenifer Wical, marketing coordinator for the DNR Fish & Wildlife Division, said the report fits into a concerning long-term trend of lower participation. As elder anglers have been leaving the activity, younger people haven’t been taking their places, she said.
Participation on a per capita basis is worse than the raw license decline suggests because the state’s overall population keeps growing. But this year’s pace of fishing sales isn’t as bad when compared to the rolling five-year average. On that basis, Wical said, 2018 Minnesota fishing licenses sales through the July 4th weekend are down 3.4 percent.
Beyond the long-term explanation for lower participation, Wical said sales this year may have been hurt by July 4th falling in the middle of the week, along with rainy weather. When July 4th falls on or close to the weekend, the holiday normally provides a boost in sales, she said.
When sales were lagging earlier this season, DNR officials were hoping that the participation decline was because of a spillover effect from the long winter. Experts were doubting that northern lake ice would melt in time for the season opener for walleye and northern pike. The lakes did in fact open, but cold water conditions stifled early catch rates.
“I thought by July 4th they would start to pick up again,” Wical said of license sales. “This summer is just not happening the way it normally happens.”
The agency believes the quality of fishing in the state is holding its own or trending upward and fishing reports this summer from across the state have been good. But when license sales decrease, the DNR’s fish and game budget shrinks.
“Any reduction in license sales does affect our ability to carry out the management we are trusted to do,” Wical said.
Individual resident fishing licenses make up the largest category of angling licenses in the state. So far this year, the DNR has sold 334,650 of those tags, down 5 percent from 2017 and down 12.5 percent from the 19-year peak that was recorded in 2006.
At the current pace, the state should easily surpass the year-end sales mark of 1 million fishing licenses. At the end of 2017, the DNR sold 1.16 million licenses — the most in five years. The state ranks third in the nation as an inland fishing destination and eighth overall in the number of licensed nonresident anglers. The business of fishing generates an estimated $2.4 billion in direct retail sales in Minnesota, also good for third in the nation. The DNR said earlier this year that the activity supports nearly 35,500 jobs in the state.