Angler Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation: The Future of Fisheries and Aquatic Conservation

Chapter 9. Employing Data Analytics to Enhance Planning and Marketing of Angling

John Taylor, J. Warren Schlechte, Robert F. Otondo, J. Wesley Neal, and Nick Guild


The preceding chapters have established that recreational angling has been stagnant or declining for several decades and that this decline threatens the historic funding mechanisms on which most conservation and management agencies, manufacturing partners, and private outfitters depend (see Chapter 1). Hunting has realized an even greater decline in participation than angling (e.g., Enck et al. 2000; Ryan and Shaw 2011; Price Tack et al. 2018). If one thinks of recreational angling and hunting as industries, a declining customer base might foreshadow the eventual decline and death of the respective industries. With this possible fate in mind, many agencies have commenced efforts to recruit new anglers and hunters, retain existing participants, and convince former participants to rejoin the angling and/or hunting ranks (reactivation). The goal of these efforts is to reverse the long-term decline in angling and hunting participation and the financial complications it entails (Byrne 2016). Although recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) efforts have been ongoing for several decades, they have rarely yielded the anticipated outcomes. Programs often report success based on number of participants, with little information on whether these “recruits” were new participants or merely existing participants already engaged in outdoor activities (e.g., AREA and RBFF 2016). In other words, these programs might be encouraging retention of current anglers and reactivation of former anglers by providing opportunity but may not be reaching significant numbers of potential new anglers.

Of larger concern is a growing disconnect between the public’s perception of fish and wildlife resources and the agencies that manage those resources. Recent research has demonstrated that more Americans are moving from the traditional utilitarian view of fish and wildlife as commodities to be exploited to a value system that sees humans more as stewards and protectors of fish and wildlife (Manfredo et al. 2018). These related trends prompted the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to produce a report (“Fish and Wildlife Relevancy Roadmap”; AFWA and WMI 2019) on maintaining relevancy as agencies work to engage and serve a broader constituent base beyond traditional hunters and anglers. Those working to engage traditional fish and wildlife participants must understand how those efforts can enhance or detract from the agency’s goal to maintain relevance across these diverse user groups. While important within the context of this chapter, this topic is addressed more fully in Chapter 13.