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Fishing reels in more anglers, survey finds

| Saturday, June 29, 2013, 10:36 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Eric Hatmaker, 29, of Monroeville fishes the Allegheny River near Oakmont on Tuesday, June 25, 2013. Hatmaker, and avid fisherman, has only fished two full days this year. A 2011 survey by the Census Bureau and Fish and Wildlife Service shows that more people fished in Pennsylvania in 2011 than in 2006, but the average number of days people spent fishing and the money they spent on fishing equipment and fishing trips dropped over the five-year period. State officials say the survey is useful but is contradicted by hunting and fishing license sales and other data.

Fishing may conjure images of simpler times, but its popularity only seems to be increasing.

A federal survey released this month says that about 1.1 million people in Pennsylvania fished in 2011, an 11 percent increase over 2006.

“I do see continuously, even throughout the offseason, more people fishing,” said Robert Walters of Friendship, a fishing guide.

The 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, which states use to plan, develop and evaluate programs, portrays a mixed picture, however.

More people may be fishing, but they spent on average half as many days doing so in 2011, as compared with 2006, and spent 66 percent less on fishing equipment and trips in that time.

The survey is the only source of information on wildlife-related spending, said John Arway, executive director of the state Fish and Boat Commission.

“The numbers are extremely important to us at the state level,” he said.

Arway said his agency's stats show that license sales dropped by 5 percent during the period the survey covered, resulting in 806,159 licenses sold in 2011.

But Walters and several other local fishing guides said they've noticed a steady increase in business.

“My weekends for the full summer were completely gone by the end of March,” said George Campbell of Verona. He has been a Lake Erie fishing guide for 10 years and has captained a boat for the past five.

Arway said such contradictions have states wondering if the survey, which the Fish and Wildlife Service produces from data collected by the Census Bureau, needs an overhaul.

“We're concerned that there may be a flaw in the survey methods,” he said.

He chairs a working group for the Association of State Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which is looking for ways to improve the survey.

Travis Lau, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, was less critical of the survey but agreed there are similar discrepancies between the survey's hunting figures and his agency's statistics.

In particular, the survey shows that the number of people hunting dropped by 26 percent to 755,000 people from 2006 to 2011. But the Game Commission reports that the number of hunting licenses sold in the state dropped by about 6 percent in the five-year period, Lau said.

Sylvia Cabrera, chief of Fish and Wildlife's National Survey Branch, said the survey's numbers are good. Each state has a different structure for its fishing and hunting licenses, and these and other differences makes it impractical to compare the survey results to license figures, she said.

“There's always been these differences between the state licenses and the survey going back to the '80s when they first started,” she said.

Denise Pepe, chief of the Census Bureau's Special Surveys Branch, said the overall methodology used to collect data hasn't changed, but budget constraints forced surveyors to rely more on phone interviews rather than the field interviews they previously conducted.

David Hornick, a Census Bureau statistician, said the result was that surveyors interviewed fewer people this time and, consequently, each person's answers had more of an effect on the survey's results. Despite the smaller sample size, the bureau believes it collected good data, Pepe said.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or

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