By Louie Stout
Anyone would be hard pressed to find anything good about the Covid 19 virus.
People have been getting terribly ill and many have died because of it.
People have lost their businesses when the economy was shut down.
During the shutdown, Michiana residents were out of work and had to find ways to fill their time while being forced to stay at home.
So, when the weather broke, they headed outside, and many discovered, or rediscovered, fishing.
License sales in Michigan and Indiana bear that out. From January through Jun 10, Indiana saw a 12.5 percent increase in fishing license sales.
That’s pretty impressive when you consider last year’s fishing licenses expired March 31 but because of the pandemic, Indiana extended it to June 30. So, many of those who had last year’s licenses still haven’t purchase the new licenses.
Michigan license sales from January to June 1 were up 10.8 percent. That percentage may have gone even higher but the state prohibited power boat fishing for about half that time, plus the weather was not as pleasant as it was in the southern half of Indiana.
These increases have been good news for both states’ department of natural resources as they have seen annual fishing license sales dwindle over the past few years.
There is even more good news in the details of who is buying those licenses. Although Indiana’s breakdown wasn’t available, it’s likely Hoosier officials have seen a similar trend.
“The license distribution is different,” said Kristin Phillips, chief of Michigan DNR’s Marketing & Outreach Division. “Licenses historically are dominated by the 50 to 70 year age group but this year we’re seeing a major uptick in that 17 to 24 group.”
For example, last year Michigan sold about 60,000 licenses to the younger set but sold more than 80,000 over the same time period this spring.
Female customers jumped from 94,010 to 126,975 and new anglers jumped from around 68,000 to more than 107,000.
Meanwhile, Michigan sold fewer licenses to the 65-and-over age group, to non-residents and fewer short- term (1 or 3 day licenses). Non-resident and short-term licenses likely dropped because charter fishing was disallowed through most of the shutdown.
Phillips said Michigan saw increased outdoor activity across the board. Turkey hunting license sales were up and there is anecdotal evidence that bike, kayak and camper sales were all up.
“All of our competition was closed – malls, movie theaters and spring school sports,” she noted. “That gave people the time to spend more time and discover the outdoors.”
More license sales equates to more money for fish and wildlife management. It also means the states get more federal excise tax money coming back to their coffers. Sportsmen gear (fishing and hunting equipment) is federally taxed at the point of sale and portions of that money is returned to states based upon number of licenses sold.
Admittedly, this is a silver lining in a dark cloud. Both DNRs have been struggling to find ways to get more people to enjoy the outdoors and help with license sales.
“People were looking for safe activities and being outdoors gave them that opportunity,” said Phillips.
Perhaps they – especially the younger generation - discovered what they were missing and will continue to be license buyers once life returns to normal.