July 18, 2019

Think outside box for Maine sportsmen

I would like to make a few comments in regard to the Jan. 20 article, “Sportsman urges more marketing.”

As an avid outdoorsman and owner of a fly fishing business, I couldn’t agree more with Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine Executive Director George Smith’s assertion that Maine is missing a huge opportunity by not aggressively supporting and marketing our natural resources.

Contrary to what Mark Latti of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife stated in the same article, Smith is also correct that while recreational fishing enjoyed a small (roughly 3 percent) increase nation-wide in 2005, based on the early numbers it has apparently decreased here in Maine over the same time period. In fact, if the numbers are correct, while both resident and nonresident fishing increased nationally, both decreased locally.

However, while Smith notes that folks come to Maine in search of a “wilderness experience,” this is not necessarily the case when it comes to fishing. In fact, many of the nation’s most popular fishing destinations are right next to the road (the Madison River in Montana comes to mind) or in and around heavily developed areas such as Jackson Hole, Wyo., Sun Valley, Idaho, and Dillon, Mont.

When it comes to fishing what people really want is fish to catch. In fact, to be more specific, study after study shows that anglers want large fish, lots of fish, and wild fish in roughly that order. My guess is that Mainers and those from outside the state who would come to Maine to fish are no different. As such, if we want to capitalize on recreational fishing, we need to address all three of these issues.

I would also mention that while Smith touts Colorado’s “aggressive fish-stocking program,” the big three trout fishing destinations (Montana, Wyoming and Idaho) are far more focused on wild fish than they are on stocked fish. In fact, when Smith himself leaves Maine to fish in Montana (Smith River, etc.) and Canada (Leaf River, etc.) it is for wild fish, not stocked fish.

Like Smith, I too am a “tourist angler.” I leave my home state at least a couple of times a year just to fish and have done so for more than 25 years. While the quality of the fishing is my primary reason for choosing a vacation destination, never once has a state’s stocking program influenced my decision. In fact, having just spent more than 25 days in Colorado last summer, I doubt I will go back as the fishing was not as good as the other western states.

Another misconception is that increased “marketing” would solve Maine’s fishing tourism woes. While stepping up our marketing efforts may get people to give Maine’s fishing a try, only a quality angling experience will get them to return for more. As such, any marketing campaign that is not accompanied by an aggressive and effective fisheries management program will inevitably fail.

The reality is that both stocking and marketing cost money; money Maine does not have. In addition, they are simply temporary solutions to a much bigger problem; i.e., marginal fishing. By enhancing and protecting Maine’s wild fisheries and using stocked

fish to develop fisheries where none can exist naturally, we will by default create far more “marketing” than any amount of money can buy.

As Smith said, it is truly unfortunate that Maine is not participating in the growth in regard to recreational fishing that the rest of the nation is experiencing. However, while addressing this is a great idea, let’s be sure that we do it in the most efficient and permanent way possible. A recreational fishing industry that is reliant on stocking and marketing is risky at best.

What I would ask Smith to do is to use his influence to push for better fisheries management, sound conservation, angler education, and then address the marketing aspect when we truly have something to market. If our problem was simply a perception issue it could be addressed through a public awareness campaign. However, this is more about product than perception.

As for Mark Latti’s (DIF&W) statement that “With the help of marketing, the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland, Labrador and Quebec are positioning themselves as premier destinations for sportsmen,” he fails to mention that the areas in question have much better fishing than here in Maine as evident by the fact that many Mainers now go there just to fish (why else would they leave Maine to fish for the same species of fish we have here?).

Rather than bemoan the lack of funding and offer up solutions (i.e., marketing and stocking) that will in fact cost more money, it is time to think outside of the box and propose how we can address the problem with what we now have to work with: dozens of high-potential wild and stocked fisheries resources that if managed properly could provide the kind of angling experience that would put Maine back on the map and do so at no cost to the public.

Bob Mallard owns Kennebec River Outfitters in Madison.

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