Fish on! License sales slowly rebounding in Ninth District
Fishing is a favored pastime for many residents in Ninth District states, and after years of decline, district sales of fishing licenses have been rising in recent years and are higher on balance over the past decade.
License sales have been strongest in the district’s most populous state, Minnesota (see Charts 1a and 1b). Montana licenses have been quite stable over this period, while South Dakota has seen a general decline, and North Dakota is experiencing a small revival in recent years after dipping during the recession.
A variety of factors have affected the recent uptick in district residents spending their summers trying to land a big catch, or trying their luck on frozen lakes. The most obvious factor is economic. The Great Recession reduced household disposable income available for nonessential goods, and as a result fishing licenses decreased in the years immediately following (2009-11). Since then, however, fishing licenses have rebounded significantly as households have regained their disposable income. This is particularly the case in Minnesota, which was hit much harder by the recession than either of the Dakotas.
Another factor is demographic. The recent increase in license sales can be partly attributed to the baby boom generation. As the baby boomers (now age 50 to 68) begin their retirement years, more are spending their free time on the lake. According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has found that fishing participation rates have stabilized in Minnesota due to the increased participation of the baby boomers. Because this generation is so large, their increased participation outweighs the downward participation trends of the other age groups.
Nonresident licenses are also an important source of license sales and especially revenue, given higher prices charged to out-of-state anglers. However, states vary in their ability to attract them; in 2013, nonresident tourists bought 44 percent of all licenses in Montana, but just 20 percent in Minnesota, with the Dakotas in the middle.
But nonresident licenses have been trending modestly upward in Minnesota and North Dakota, possibly due to cheaper costs—$45 in both states for an annual license, compared with $60 and $69 in Montana and South Dakota, respectively, where nonresident licenses have been falling (see Charts 2a and 2b).