Less than 100,000 Mainers hunt or fish every year

NOTE: I’ll be in the Bangor Daily News booth at the Sportsman’s Show at the University of Maine Orono on Saturday (March 8) from 9 am to 11 am to talk about my outdoor news blog and my new book, A Life Lived Outdoors, published yesterday by Islandport Press. Hope to see you there!

Shocking Report

The report shocked me. As several of us looked it over, we agreed, the information couldn’t be right. So I asked Bill Swan, Director of Licensing for Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, to step out into the hall and go over it with me.

Bill Swan (center) flanked by Christl Theriault (DIF&W) and Bob Meyers (Maine Snowmobile Association)

Bill Swan (center) flanked by Christl Theriault (DIF&W) and Bob Meyers (Maine Snowmobile Association)

Turns out Bill’s report was correct. Less than 100,000 Maine residents buy a hunting or fishing license, or both, each year. That’s a pretty small base of sportsmen, especially considering there was a day when almost every Maine household held at least one hunter and angler.

The information came in a report Bill presented yesterday to the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, on a professional study of a proposal to expand lifetime licenses. The study found that only 70,000 residents purchased a hunting license in each of the last five years, and only 60,000 residents purchased a fishing license in each of the last five years.

Bill told me that many residents purchased both, and he estimated that less than 100,000 residents purchased one or both licenses.

The proposal to study and possibly expand the opportunity to purchase lifetime licenses was initially presented in a bill that Representative Mike Shaw sponsored at my request. I’ll give you a full report on the study later. Bill only presented summary points yesterday, and when we get the full report it will give us a lot more information.

Marketing

Some of the problem here might be marketing. Yesterday four bids were received in response to a request for proposals for “the services of a consultant to provide Marketing Research services, that include, but may not be limited to, hunters and anglers profiling, marketing analytics and economic impact of hunting and fishing.”

DIF&W LogoThe request came from Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development, Maine Office of Tourism, on behalf of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, and Maine Professional Guides Association.

Over the years, many suggestions for improved marketing of hunting and fishing have been offered. In January of 2012, the Nonresident Task Force, created by DIF&W, presented its recommendations to the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee. A lot of the Task Force’s time was spent discussing what and how to market to nonresident hunters. One high priority recommendation called for a lot more research, “so we know what hunters want and need and can work with the tourism industry to make it happen.”

The Task Force also recommended that DIF&W and the Maine Office of Tourism develop an annual marketing plan to attract more nonresident hunters to our state. That recommendation included an excellent list of specific tasks. No action was taken on these recommendations.

MATT Report – “Key Issue: Marketing”

In 2003 and 2004, The Management Assistance Team of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies examined the various divisions of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and issued a very detailed report with many recommendations. The study was the result of legislation I submitted on behalf of SAM, and we helped raise the money to pay for it. Here is some of what the very professional MATT staff reported and recommended on marketing (and remember, at that time Bill Pierce was at DIF&W as its marketing director, with a budget and program, so some of the positive comments in this report reflected on Bill’s work – but the agency did not fill that position after Bill left eight years ago and it has since been cut. Today DIF&W does almost no marketing).

From the MATT Report

Many state fish and wildlife agencies are beginning to view marketing as an important tool, vital to their long-term success. The MDIFW marketing efforts include working actively with the tourism industry to develop products that attract out-of-state hunters and anglers. They promote Maine’s exceptional wildlife and fishing recreational opportunities at expositions across New England, and they are successfully pursuing cooperative marketing efforts with Maine’s flagship retailers, LL Bean and Kittery Trading Post, as well as with the Maine Tourism Department.

The MDIFW marketing efforts generate positive cash flow while adding the benefits of enhanced brand recognition and increased wildlife and fishing related recreation. For example, the marketing effort includes a branding campaign that is increasing the visibility of the MDIFW logo through clothing sales while simultaneously generating net income of approximately $40 thousand per year for the Department.

Simply put, a “marketing approach” tailors products, pricing, promotion, and placement to customer needs. While the MDIFW marketing efforts are self-funding and successfully increasing MDIFW public recognition, the entire agency could be improved be adopting a marketing approach in the way it does business. Approximately one-third of the state fish and wildlife agencies across the country are actively engaged in either learning how or already using a marketing approach, and the number is increasing.

State fish and wildlife agencies in several states have already committed to developing agency-wide marketing approaches in an effort to make sure that all programs deliver the highest value to their customers. In these states, the agency leadership recognized that marketing was not an isolated function served by a single individual. Rather, all employees play an appropriate role in making sure their programs deliver the best marketing mix and highest value to the customers, perhaps coordinated through a marketing specialist or marketing team. Interestingly, marketing in many agencies is a tool to achieve revenue goals and conservation success.

Marketing is often misperceived in fish and wildlife agencies as commercialization, promotion, or sales. Any of these may play a part in whether to adopt a marketing approach or not, but ensuring that the agency is tied to customer needs, price sensitivity, access, and awareness are all vital to a state fish and wildlife agency’s long-term survival. For success, the marketing efforts cannot exist in a vacuum, but need to be infused into all Department programs as an overall approach to doing business.

Often, fish and wildlife agency employees resist the idea that marketing is an important part of fish and wildlife management. However, the benefits of the marketing approach include a toolset to help fish and wildlife managers understand their customers. Another benefit is that the customers better understand the agency’s products, programs, and services.

RECOMMENDATION: Integrate a Department-wide marketing approach.

Conclusion

Don’t miss the importance of this MATT statement:

Ensuring that the agency is tied to customer needs, price sensitivity, access, and awareness are all vital to a state fish and wildlife agency’s long-term survival.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.