By Jim Sciascia, Chief, Office of Information and Education
For the first time in over 20 years, the number of New Jersey anglers increased four consecutive years from 2006 through 2009. In total, the number of New Jersey anglers in 2009 was more than 10 percent greater than 2005. Non-resident anglers increased more than 25 percent from 2005 to 2009. During this same period, many other states saw declines in angler numbers.
What’s behind New Jersey’s increase in fishing participation? Likely it’s a combination of factors encouraging more people to fish. New Jersey has fabulous fishing opportunities, more fishing access, better information resources and easy online licensing. Fishing’s popularity as a way to relax and enjoy the outdoors is strong. Plus targeted advertising and marketing highlight all the reasons to fish in New Jersey.
Why People Fish in New Jersey
Fishing is a wonderful way to unwind and to experience the outdoors. In fact, nearly 70 percent of New Jersey anglers surveyed in 2009 cited enjoying the outdoors and escaping the stresses of everyday life as the top reasons they go fishing. As the pace of life quickens and the need for escape, relaxation and a connection to nature grows, an increasing number of people may satisfy all of those needs through fishing.
Excitement of the catch is another key reason cited by around 50 percent of our anglers for why they fish. There’s certainly no lack of excitement since freshwater fishing has never been better in New Jersey. At no time in our state’s history has there been a greater diversity and quality of thriving game fish populations for anglers to pursue than now. The double-digit percentage increase in non-resident anglers speaks volumes about the quality of fishing in our state and clearly the word is spreading.
The dramatic improvement in New Jersey’s fisheries has taken place over the last 20 years through progressive fisheries management and fish stocking programs made possible by the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s state of the art fish rearing facilities at the Pequest Trout Hatchery and the Hackettstown Warmwater Hatchery. In the recent past we developed thriving fisheries for species like muskellunge, northern pike, walleye, hybrid striped bass and channel catfish. These newcomers are in addition to a spectacular statewide largemouth bass fishery and a smallmouth bass fishery that is being expanded to south Jersey locales.
On the coldwater front, trout fishing in New Jersey is amongst the best in the Middle Atlantic States, with year round stockings that include a popular fall and winter stocking of 25,000 trout, all measuring 14 inches to 16 inches.
The ‘Intermittent’ Angler
So the good news is that more people are fishing in New Jersey. However, many may not be fishing every year. This became apparent after our electronic licensing system was put in place in 2006.
The electronic licensing system made buying fishing licenses and trout stamps quick and easy. The new system gave anglers the ability to buy and print a fishing license and trout stamp from the comfort of their home and at a moment’s notice. This undoubtedly helped increase fishing participation since spur-of-the-moment fishing trips no longer had to be cancelled or delayed because someone did not yet have a license. The newer license system also provided a wealth of annual data on our angler population and their license buying patterns.
Prior to 2006, New Jersey fishing licenses were handwritten paper documents with no annual database of license buyers. Now, electronic license data gives Fish and Wildlife the ability to identify annual license-buying patterns of New Jersey anglers. The data shows that more than one third of the anglers who buy a license each year do not purchase a license the following year. This means more than 60,000 anglers float in and out of the New Jersey fishing license buying population in any given year!
New Jersey is not alone. Fishing license data from 15 states having multiple years of electronic license data revealed that only 10.4 percent of northeast anglers purchased a fishing license each year of a five-year period. Surprisingly, the majority of anglers (53 percent) only purchased a license one time during a five-year period.
This recent revelation of the national trend in license buying came as quite a surprise to fish and wildlife agencies, which always assumed mostly the same anglers bought licenses every year. Prior to automated license systems, most states did not have a database of license buyers necessary to observe individual license buying trends. Today, churning, the term for anglers continually entering and leaving the license buying population, is a well-documented and accepted fact.
Many states, including New Jersey, now recognize the great potential for building a larger voice and greater funding for aquatic conservation and fisheries management by encouraging the ‘intermittent’ or ‘lapsed’ angler to become a more frequent license buyer. New Jersey joined in a national partnership program with the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) aimed at encouraging lapsed anglers to renew their licenses through a direct mail marketing program.
The RBFF partnership provided funding to send postcards and fishing information brochures to New Jersey lapsed anglers in 2008, 2009 and 2010. This outreach program is part of a more extensive marketing program that began modestly in 2005 with local radio advertising. Fishing promotion efforts grew in subsequent years to include direct mail marketing, extensive radio advertising, newspaper and media coverage plus e-mail communication linked to Web site information. Building awareness about fishing and promoting fishing in New Jersey has helped sustain New Jersey’s annual increase in fishing participation over the last four years.
License Buying Facts
- The day before trout season opening day is typically the busiest day for license sales; 6,452 fishing licenses were issued on that day in 2009.
- The oldest angler (non-resident) to buy a license in 2009 was 93.
- In 2009, visitors from 71 different countries purchased a fishing license in New Jersey.
- Residents from all 50 states purchased a license in New Jersey since 2006. New York and Pennsylvania residents make up the bulk of non-residents sales but Floridians are surprisingly third.
- The last fishing license sold in 2009 was on Dec. 26, 2009.
Increased Fishing Participation Has Many Benefits
Fishing is fun and a great way to spend time either solo or with people close to us. Those of us who fish also know the healing power of time on the water and making that meaningful connection to the natural world around us. That time instills and nurtures a strong conservation and stewardship ethic that has spawned—and will continue to foster—generations of advocates for a healthy environment.
Increasing the number of anglers strengthens the voice for conservation of our state’s aquatic and natural resources. Increasing anglers also increases license revenue and federal funds from the Sport Fish Restoration Program that support Fish and Wildlife’s freshwater research, management and water quality/aquatic habitat protection efforts. This important work leads to cleaner and more plentiful water both for fish and for people. License revenue and matching federal funds are also necessary to maintain and improve the outstanding freshwater fishing opportunities that have been developed in New Jersey.
The continued operation of the Pequest Trout Hatchery and the Hackettstown Warmwater Hatchery is critical to maintaining and improving our excellent trout and warmwater fisheries. The Pequest Hatchery provides trout fishing opportunities in many areas of the state that otherwise would not have a trout fishery. Almost two years are required to raise the more than 600,000 trout stocked each year in the spring, fall and winter. The Hackettstown Hatchery hatches and stocks two to three million fish each year to sustain top-notch fisheries for lake trout, muskellunge, walleye, northern pike, bass, and about 10 other warmwater fish species. Stocking programs from both facilities are constantly re-assessed and successful trophy fisheries are the result of long-term investments of time and resources.
Revenues generated from the sale of fishing licenses go far beyond supporting fisheries research and management, fish culture operations and aquatic habitat protection. Educational programs, maintenance of public lands and fishing access areas plus fish and wildlife law enforcement all depend on angler support.
So if you don’t a buy a fishing license each and every year, you may be getting a postcard or brochure in the mail reminding you of all the reasons you should. The best reason of all is the pure enjoyment of the fishing experience.