By Mike Schoonveld
March 1, 2020
I’ve written upbeat columns detailing how certain portions of the outdoor industry is booming. New and used boat sales are up. Two decades ago so many people embraced the then new GPS technology that DNRs, the Forest Service and other land holding agencies had to consider regulations dealing with geocaching. Kayaking and kayak fishing has exploded along with other paddle sports becoming more popular. People seemed to be inventing new ways to play outdoors.
I’ve written downbeat columns as well. Fish and game management agencies are troubled because their budgets are being strained by stagnant or declining fishing, hunting and trapping license sales. Part of the issue is an aging demographic, part of it is a changing demographic.
Programs like R3 - Recruit, Retain, Reactivate, the Outdoor Industry Association’s Plus One campaign, the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s 60 in 60 initiative and others are helping to some degree or at least stemming the downward trends. I support them all.
The Outdoor Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), recently released their latest Outdoor Participation Report. As in many of these reports, the content is filled with statistics, trends, graphs and other numbers. One number popped up on my computer screen recently which hit me like a blast from an NFL linebacker.
While the information showed about half the U.S. population participated in outdoor recreation including hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, canoeing and biking among many more outdoor activities. This number lumped guys like me who participate several days weekly with people who only occasionally engage in outdoor recreation.
The part that alarmed me the most was the statistics which showed the alarming trend that just under half the U.S. population does not participate in outdoor recreation at all. That’s at all, not just hunting or fishing, it says zero. No fishing, no strolls through the park or skydiving, downhill skiing or even golf - ZERO!
For many of us, the idea of not being outside is inconceivable. But according to the Outdoor Foundation’s latest study, nearly half our neighbors have no idea what they’re missing.
These surveys were conducted just last year but asked about the outdoor habits (or lack of them) of participants for the year 2018. Here’s a couple more numbers which struck me. Americans went on one billion fewer outdoor outings in 2018 than they did in 2008.
Kids went on 15 percent fewer annual outings in 2018 than they did in 2012.
The report wanted to detail at least a couple of positives. The best the report writers could detail was female outdoor participation increased by an average of 1.7 percent over the last three years and Hispanic participation in the outdoors was the strongest among ethnic groups.
It’s going to take more than just additional Hispanic hunters, anglers and skiers or 1.7 increase in percent female participation rate to stem the tide. It’s also going to take more than R3, 60 in 60 or Plus One programs. Not to belittle these government and non-government organizational programs and initiatives. They are great; but just as the government’s war on poverty has had little affect on poverty rates and the numerous NGO anti-drug programs didn’t prevent the opioid crisis, don’t expect these relatively expensive institutional initiatives to solve the problem.
What is needed is to supplement these programs with a truly grass roots effort every hunter, hiker, trapper or fisherman can do quite simply. Find someone - it shouldn’t be hard if half the people in the country are in the group - find someone, and invite them to step outside with you.
They don’t have to be youths - but introducing youths is certainly important. They don’t have to be strangers. That’s scary. Take a family member - brother, sister, nephew or your mom.
It doesn’t have to be long or far away. Sixty three percent of the outdoor people responding to the survey reported going outside most often within 10 miles of their home.
If every hunter, angler, canoeist or other outdoor recreationalist took just one “indoorsman” along with them once or twice each year and if one in ten of those indoor oriented people became regular participants in outdoor pursuits, the trends would be reversed. I’d then have another optimistic topic to write about and I’m looking forward to it - with your help.
As we move into 2020 ...
Many issues are moving in DC from proposed fishery regulations to the USCG Reauthorization Bill and pending legislation for new requirements on all for hire charter vessels that operate overnight trips. NACO is working for you on all these issues, and they are moving fast.
The pending legislation on new requirements for all for hire charter vessels that operate overnight trips is a most serious issue. Senator Feinstein and 2 other democratic Representatives introduced legislation near the end of the session last year and that legislation has now been incorporated into the USCG Reauthorization Bill that has already been passed by the Senate and the House and is in conference. NACO, working with other passenger vessel associations, has been working to reduce the impact of that legislation. President Bob Zales, II was on a conference call on 1-8-20 with the Senate Commerce Committee Staff and is in constant contact with them with suggestions for new requirements that will be inexpensive and not very burdensome, much less than what the current legislation will require. More news will be available after 1-13-20.
Several House bills will be before the House Natural Resources Committee on 1-14-20. These include HR 5126, the Descend Act, a bill that will require all vessels (charter, commercial, private) in the Gulf of Mexico to carry descending devices to use when discarding fish. NACO is opposed to using legislation for this type of requirement as the Fishery Management Council process is a better venue as it provides for stakeholder input and public hearings so a broad audience can be involved.
HR 1834 will prohibit certain chemicals such as sunscreens, to be used in marine sanctuaries and where corals are prevalent. We feel this is excessive and unenforceable. HR 2236, the Forage Fish Conservation Act, will require the Comptroller General to submit reports to Congress on Regional Fishery Management Councils actions to better manage forage fishes. HR 4679, Climate Ready Fisheries Act, will require fishery management agencies to prepare fishery management plans to react to climate change. HR 4723, Salmon Focused Investments in Sustainable Habits Act, will require identification of salmon conservation areas.
HR 5548, Fishery Failures: Urgently Needed Disaster Declarations Act, this legislation has been worked on along with the Senate version approved last year by NACO VP Butch Smith and President Bob Zales, II. These legislations will help to better quicker disaster declarations, include charter and commercial vessels and operations, and should provide for faster financial help for future fishery disasters whether by storms or by other means. NACO is working with other fishery associations to secure passage of these legislations.
2020 is starting out as a very busy year and NACO will be at the forefront on these and any other issues forthcoming. Your support, both by membership and financial is needed. If you are a member please renew today, if you are not please join, and please pass this info to others you know in our industry. NACO continues to work for you and the for hire charter industry.