Picture waking up in the morning to find all fishing and hunting abolished in North Carolina. What would happen? Thousands of Tar Heel sportsmen would be up in arms. Thousands of folks would be out of work. Billions of dollars would be drained from the state’s economy. The state would be in turmoil.
“It would be a huge loss,” says Walter “Deet” James, hunting and heritage biologist at the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. “Wildlife management would go down the drain and without wildlife management an overpopulation of animals would result.”
Hunting and fishing in North Carolina is big business. It is among the top industries, ranked 12th by the state commerce department.
Surveys by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show hunting, fishing and other outdoors activities pump $3.3 billion into the state’s economy annually. That includes $2.4 billion from fishing and hunting and $930 million from wildlife watching (observing, feeding, photographing). In terms of participants, anglers account for 1.5 million and hunters, 335,000 and wildlife watchers, 2.4 million. Data provided by the National Shooting Sports Foundation says the industry provides more than 35,000 jobs – 9,376 from hunting and 25,000 from fishing.
A recent NCWRC report says hunting and fishing has a “huge impact” on the state’s economy.
“Numbers of resident hunters are increasing and North Carolina is ranked 10th in the nation for the number of non-resident huntersJust this year Bassmaster magazine ranked four of our lakes among the top bass fishing spots in the nation. The American Sportfishing Association ranks North Carolina No. 4 in visiting non-resident anglers’ destinations, and Field & Stream magazine ranks our whitetail deer hunting some of the best in the country.”
North Carolina joins a recent short-term trend in increased numbers of anglers and hunters. The National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, & Wildlife-Associated Recreation, conducted every five years, reports that 90 million Americans participated in wildlife-related activities in 2011, up 3 percent from five years earlier.
“The increase was primarily among those who fished and hunted,” the survey said. “The data shows that 33.1 million people fished, 13.7 million hunted and 71.8 million participated in wildlife-watching activity”
The Outdoor Industry Association reports that “Outdoor recreation is essential to the American economy. Every year Americans spend $646 billion on outdoor recreation – on gear, vehicles, trips, travel-related expensesThis creates jobs, supports communities, generates tax revenue and helps drive the economy”
The report also says that at least 48 percent of North Carolina residents participate in outdoor recreation annually.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists outdoor recreation as No. 3 in consumer spending, behind pharmaceutical and motor vehicles and parts.
James, the state hunting heritage biologist, says that during the last several years the number of sportsmen in the state and nation has declined. Reasons include lack of habitat, family obligations, and aging out.
A U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Department of Commerce report, for example, shows the hunters in North Carolina has declined roughly 10 percent between 1996 and 2006. However, James says that in 2011 hunter participation was up 9 percent.
“1975 was the peak year for hunting,” he said. “2006 was the low pointNow maybe we are leveling off.”
James also pointed out that fishing had declined but not to the extent of hunting.
One of James’ primary duties is recruiting and retaining sportsmen. Hunter mentoring programs have yielded positive results. As an example, he reports an increase in female hunters.
As to the future of hunting and fishing, James says “We really don’t know, but I like to think through our marketing efforts we’ll continue to stabilize, but I doubt we will ever get back to 1975 levels.”