In West Virginia, and in other states throughout the country, the COVID-19 crisis has people going gaga over fishing.
Fishing-license sales are skyrocketing. Minnesota reports a 60% increase. Iowa reports a 55% bump, Louisiana 53%, Vermont 50%, Texas 39%, North Dakota and Alabama 37%, Georgia 21%, and so on.
Even in West Virginia, where Gov. Jim Justice suspended the state’s fishing-license requirement for 57 days, license sales rebounded sharply after the suspension ended.
“In June, our sales of resident licenses jumped about 30% compared to June 2019,” said Steve McDaniel, director of the state Division of Natural Resources. “In June 2019, we sold 20,827 licenses. In June 2020, we sold 27,249.”
McDaniel said West Virginia’s license sales were running ahead of last year’s pace until March 26, when Justice declared a 30-day waiver on the state’s license requirement. On May 5, he extended the waiver through May 31.
State officials wondered how much of an effect the license-requirement suspension would have on annual sales. It didn’t take them long to find out.
“In June, fishing license sales just blew up,” McDaniel said.
And not only fishing licenses, but also hunting-fishing combination licenses.
“Most of the people who buy combo licenses in June are planning to fish,” McDaniel said. “We sold 6,898 combo licenses in June, as compared to 4,773 last year. That’s about a 30% increase, too.”
Revenue from the increased sales totaled roughly $300,000. During the moratorium, DNR officials projected the agency would lose an estimated $1.2 million in fishing-license revenue. With the $300,000 bump in June sales, that projected loss dropped to $900,000.
Overall, McDaniel said, the fishing trend in West Virginia is positive. Fishing-license sales had been on the rise even before the COVID-19 crisis began. “In 2019, our Gold Rush [trout-fishing] promotion helped us to an increase in sales,” he added.
Because the Gold Rush stockings of golden rainbow trout draw large crowds of anglers to waters in and around state parks, concerns about virus-related social distancing forced DNR officials to cancel this year’s event.
But even without the popular promotion to help fuel an increase, license sales jumped sharply once Justice’s 57-day waiver expired.
McDaniel thinks the moratorium might actually have helped fuel the surge.
“We’re seeing a pretty good increase in the number of first-time fishing license buyers,” he said.
“During all the free fishing days, a lot of people went out fishing who otherwise might not have. They must have liked the experience, because a lot of them decided to buy licenses after the free fishing days ended.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which tracks trends in recreational hunting, fishing and wildlife watching, is reporting a general upward trend in fishing-license purchases. McDaniel hopes West Virginia can ride the current coronavirus-fueled fishing surge and transform it into a long-term trend.
“People are getting back out to nature,” he said. “With so many people at home [due to the virus], folks have more disposable time. People are deciding it’s healthier to be outside, along a river or on a lake. I hope we can take advantage of that.”