Perspective: Improve Fishing

Perspective: CA Department of Fish and Wildlife finally recognizes need to improve fishing participation

BY MARKO MLKOTIN/California Sportfishing LeaguePublished: Jan 17, 2018

It’s no secret that California’s fishing participation rate and licenses sales are in a desperate state. Fortunately, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) recognizes that inaction does not serve the interests of recreational anglers, nor the department. This recognition could not be more timely.

In September of 2017, a new report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed that 101.6 million Americans — or 40 percent of the U.S. population (16 years old and older) participated in wildlife-related activities, such as hunting, fishing and wildlife-watching. This national report, which comes out every five years, revealed an 8 percent increase in angler participation from 2011-16, and a 2 percent increase of expenditures made by anglers from $45 billion to $46.1 billion. Sadly, the number of anglers and their economic contribution would have been significantly greater if California’s declining parti­cipation rate would simply stop its slide.


Hunting and fishing license sales have been declining in California for decades and only now has its impact on funding for the DFW become most evident. In 2017, the California Fish and Game Preservation Fund, funded by hunting and fishing licenses, experienced a $20 million deficit. Absent an influx of new revenue, future deficits are projected for years to come.

Needless to say, when California has one of the costliest fishing licenses in the U.S., com­bined with increasing limitations on when and where one can fish, it comes as no surprise that California’s fishing participation rate ranks dead-last in the U.S. (per capita). Consequently, annual license sales have declined over 55 percent since 1980, a time when annual licenses cost a mere $5 a year. All this has contributed to what is often referred to as a “death-spiral.”

It does not have to be this way and we are pleased that the DFW recognizes the need to take action. DFW has reached out to both the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF, and the California Sportfishing League (CSL) for assistance in developing a strategy that could increase fishing participation rates and license sales by identifying barriers to fishing. Funded by a federal excise tax on fishing tackle and boat fuel, RBFF is charged by federal law to invest these funds in programs that stimulate fishing and boating activities throughout the country — and their expertise is coming to California.

The need for reform takes on added importance when one considers that California remains one of the largest consumer markets for fishing tackle and outdoor equipment in the U.S. There are more anglers in a handful of California counties than several states combined. This is why tens of thousands of Californians who depend on outdoor tourism, retailers and manufacturers for jobs should applaud DFW’s recognition that a new approach is needed to protect recreational fishing and outdoor tourism.

To date, RBFF has enjoyed considerable success by working with State fish and wildlife agencies implementing programs throughout the country that aim to Recruit new anglers, Retain existing ones and Reactivate anglers who allowed their licenses to lapse (known as “R3” programs). Many states have found success in having an R3 coordinator for their agency as part of their planning and program implementation process. For example, utilizing RBFF’s Angler Reactivation Toolkit, Georgia DNR successfully brought back nearly 10,000 lapsed anglers generating more than $170,000 in revenue for the agency. New York DEC had similar results with their retention/reactivation campaign generating an additional $220,000 in revenue.

Just imagine what impact a successful R3 program would mean for California? With additional license sales, DFW’s fish stocking programs could get back to full production, and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) could be properly managed and monitored so that the state can one day honor its promise to lift a fishing ban on over 800 square miles of the Pacific Ocean.

An effective angler recruitment, retention and reactivation program is the first step to growing angler participation in our great state. However, to be completely successful we must all work together and develop a strategy that addresses all of the barriers to fishing, whether that is lack of fishing access, fishing skills, or basic cost of a fishing license. A comprehensive strategy will be required if we are to succeed.

California’s sportfishing industry is facing a crisis. How­ever, now that DFW and CSL have joined together to develop a path forward, it’s time to develop some meaningful solutions so that we can introduce more Californians to the joy of fishing and secure its role in the future of California’s culture.

Success equals a win for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, a win for anglers, a win for industry, and a win for the economy. We look forward to partnering with DFW and RBFF in developing this path forward.

Marko Mlikotin is Executive Director of the California Sportfishing

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