The recent study by national experts, paid for by the Maine Tourism Commission, didn’t really tell us much that we don’t already know. Here’s what we read about hunting in the first paragraph of the 128 page report.
The number of sportsmen who come to Maine to fish and hunt, particularly hunters, is of concern due to the declining numbers over the past decade. In the most recent five-year period from 2009 through 2013, the change in numbers of licenses to hunt and fish in Maine has been mostly negative. Among nonresidents, Maine has lagged New England and the United States with a 20% drop in the number of hunting licenses, tags and permits (Figure E1).
On Tuesday, April 28, in Room 206 of the Cross House Office Building, the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee has scheduled a hearing on LD 668, An Act to Market Maine’s Hunting and Fishing Opportunities, sponsored by Representative Bob Duchesne at my request. This bill would establish a comprehensive marketing program at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, led and coordinated by a dedicated marketing specialist.
If you work in the hunting and fishing economy, or care anything about it, please be there to testify for our bill. You can read more about the bill in my outdoor news blog, posted on Wednesday.
Bob and I discussed the bill on his radio show recently. You can listen to the show here.
It’s no secret that we’ve lost most of Maine’s deer hunting industry after the deer herd itself was lost. Those guides, for example, who could, moved to other states. I know one lodge owner and guide who sold his north country lodge and bought a ranch in Texas, where he charged $5,000 to $10,000 for a week of deer hunting. Others are now guiding in the many other states that offer better deer hunting than Maine does these days.
And now, moose hunting is following the same path. The sudden one-year slash in moose permits, made by DIF&W in 2014 after research showed significant deaths from ticks during the previous winter.
Only bear hunting seems to be holding its own here, but it took nearly $3 million to defend that hunt in the 2014 referendum. And we may have to do that again next year.
What is oftentimes overlooked in this analysis is that many of our state’s inns, motels, restaurants, country stores, and even gas stations, in rural Maine, depend on resident and nonresident hunters and anglers for a good portion of their business. And the loss of nonresident hunters, in particular, has been very damaging.
Well, at least fishing is doing well in Maine, right? Well, ahhh, not exactly. I love to fish the Androscoggin and Kennebec Rivers. But I know of at six fly fishing shops that served anglers in those areas that have closed in the last 10 years.
While we love to think our reputation for native brook trout will continue to bring anglers here, that’s not true either. In fact, more anglers fish for bass in Maine these days than fish for brook trout and we catch twice as many bass as brookies each year.
I also remember the hay day of striper fishing in the Kennebec. And then they were gone. A friend who guided striper anglers on the Kennebec, actually returned all his customers’ deposits, that first year after the fish disappeared, and told the customers he could not in good conscience take them fishing because there were no stripers to catch. And he closed his business.
Well, at least we’ve got some great sporting camps. Yes, that’s true. But Maine once boasted over 300 sporting camps, and that number is now down to less than 50. I’m writing a book about Maine sporting camps for Down East Books. On a survey I sent to each camp, I asked them to tell me what their greatest challenges are.
Many said the loss of their traditional customers, hunters and anglers, has been difficult to overcome. They are scrambling to identify and attract new customers, from birdwatchers to snowmobilers.
It’s far past time that we recognized the need to protect and enhance Maine’s population of game animals and fish, and started working together – industry, DIF&W, legislature, tourism officials and organizations, and all of us who care about hunting and fishing in Maine – to save our hunting and fishing industry. Perhaps Rep. Duchesne’s marketing bill will get us started down this road.