Polls and surveys from the federal government, state agencies, industry and nonprofit groups agree on two important points: America is changing and fewer people are fishing.
The new focus of an annual report by the Virginia-based nonprofit Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation - the folks behind the national "Take Me Fishing" campaign - drills deeper into the cultural demographics of angling, researching the reasons fishing is less often included among recreation choices. The "2014 Special Report on Fishing" refers to the sport as "one of the most popular outdoor activities in the nation," but examines "less tangible perceptions, attitudes and stereotypes related to fishing and fishing participants."
Despite the foundation's interest in promoting fishing as a recreation option, the report documents a pattern of shifting population trends, evolving interests and less time spent fishing.
According to the report, 47 million Americans went fishing in 2012. Fewer than 46 million - 15.8 percent of the population - fished in 2013. While 8.7 million new or returning anglers participated in the sport a year ago, 9.9 million left - a loss of 1.2 million, representing a statistical "churn rate" of 21 percent and a return to a downward trend that had ticked upward since 2010.
Frank Peterson, president and CEO of RBFF, noted several important changes documented in the annual report:
■ Women comprise fewer than one-third of current anglers but nearly half of non-anglers who said they are interested in fishing. And while the sport remains overwhelmingly male dominated, for the first time most newcomers to fishing are female.
■ While freshwater fishing is traditionally not part of Latino cultural heritage, the small percentage of Hispanic Americans who go fishing spend nearly five more days on the water than the average angler. The percentage of Latinos who have started fly fishing has almost doubled since 2008.
■ Eleven percent of children who have never gone fishing expressed an interest in trying it, and 44 percent are girls. And, curiously, 50 percent of technology-obsessed, indoor-focused 13-to-17-year-olds said "outdoor activities are cool."
"It's very difficult to get some of this information sometimes, although the sporting goods [industry] uses this report as an annual report card," Peterson said. "The changing demographics of fishing looks like the changing demographic of the country. Our mission is to develop a clear picture of fishing participation, to show the fishing industry how to look outside its existing customer base."
The report confirmed that fishing is extremely family friendly. More than 17 percent of adults living with children age 1 to 17 participate in fishing. In homes without children, 11.8 percent of adults fish.
Fly fishing is the least popular of fishing types with 5.9 million participants, but as in previous years it has the highest number of first-timers and attracts more people with college and post-graduate degrees (42 percent). Nearly 37 percent of fly anglers are minorities, and almost 30 percent are female.
About 10 percent of freshwater anglers are black and 6.3 percent are Latino. But Peterson noted that Hispanic-Americans comprise 17 percent of America - the nation's fasting-growing demographic group.
"I don't think we can ignore the growth of the Latino population," he said. "Fishing isn't a culturally relevant element in most of that community. But if you look at the benefits of fishing - it's family friendly, frequent participation among large family groups, the health benefits, connection with nature - those benefits would resonate very well with Hispanic audiences once they know."
Peterson believes the fishing industry and media too frequently present fishing in ways that are not attractive to minority groups, particularly Latinos.
"I'm saying, generally they don't fish because they're uninformed, that we as an industry are not doing a good job of reaching out to that important demographic," he said. "And it will be vital to the future of fishing to inform and become relevant to that community."
The report doesn't address future funding of aquatic resources. Anglers and boat owners pay for the management of freshwater plants and animals through state fishing license fees and a federal excise tax on fishing and boating gear and marine fuel. No similar tax is applied to products that are not exclusively used by anglers and hunters including binoculars, bicycles, kayaks, cameras, outdoor clothing and footwear, camping equipment, swimming and diving gear and other sports-related products.
Find a link to the full report at the Post-Gazette Rod & Gun Club blog at http://blogs.post-gazette.com/sports/rod-gun-club.