Survey searches for cause of frustration

Decline in sport-fishing license sales prompts state to ask why

Posted: Monday, January 29, 2001

Sales of Alaska resident sport-fishing licenses are falling despite Alaska's increasing population. The state hopes to find out why with a survey on the way to 8,500 Alaska residents.

The new survey goes to Alaska residents who have quit buying licenses within the last seven years or who have not bought them at all.

To find the dropouts, the Department of Fish and Game is comparing fishing license records to lists of Alaska Permanent Fund dividend recipients, said Doug Vincent-Lang, assistant director of the Division of Sport Fish.

That is a switch from the familiar Statewide Harvest Survey, which goes each year to a sample of active anglers.

"We're trying to look at people who haven't been buying licenses and ascertain their awareness of sport-fishing opportunities, their satisfaction with sport-fishing opportunities and their desire for sport-fishing opportunities -- and to find out whether the mix of opportunities we're providing meets the desires of people who are interested in sport fishing," Vincent-Lang said.

Scott Miller, manager of Soldotna Trustworthy Hardware, said in September that many residents who visit his store seem tired of fighting the crowds.

"Because the Kenai, Russian and Kasilof rivers are so crowded, they just don't enjoy fishing like they used to," he said. "This year, I know a lot of people who haven't bought licenses who used to. They may only have gone out two or three times a year, and the last time they went, it wasn't so enjoyable. ... I have two personal friends who sold their boats and went golfing because they didn't like the crowds."

Vincent-Lang said crowding may be part of the problem.

"But there's a bunch of other things. How reliably is the opportunity being provided?" he asked. "I've talked to people on the telephone who say they need to plan a fishing trip two or three weeks ahead of time. By the time they get there, the fishery has closed. I talked to one guy who said he gave it up not because he didn't like sport fishing, but because he couldn't drive to Kenai and get a camping spot anymore."

Brett Huber, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Inc., said in September that the costs of waders, fishing poles, lures and the gasoline for a visit from Anchorage have risen.

"It takes a toll on young families with kids," he said.

Meanwhile, he said, everyone likes to be successful.

"We've had several poor silver years in a row and restrictions on the king salmon fishery," he said. "Nothing is more discouraging for a family than buying four licenses and gear and not catching fish or not being able to go fishing because it's restricted. If they have the opportunity to do something else, we may lose them from the sport."

A state study found that though Alaska's population rose 4 percent from 1993 to 1999, sales of resident sport-fishing licenses declined by nearly 8 percent, from 191,000 to 176,000.

Vincent-Lang said the state is mailing the new surveys to roughly equal numbers of Alaskans in Southcentral, Interior and Southeast Alaska. Researchers will compare results between the three regions, he said. The study also is designed so that they can compare rural and urban regions within Southcentral Alaska. He said he hopes to have results by fall.

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