Last week was a whirlwind tour of meetings in Washington, D.C. with several federal natural resource agencies before attending the 74th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference. Conference host, the Wildlife Management Institute, was established in 1911 to restore declining wildlife populations.
Today, though many game species have been restored, wildlife professionals attending the conference still address a variety of resource concerns and now people issues as well. In recent decades, their focus has expanded to include problems related to decreasing numbers of hunters, target shooters and anglers.
Natural resource agencies and conservation organizations have developed a myriad of programs designed to retain those who hunt, shoot and fish as well as recruit from the ranks of women, nontraditional users and young people. Our ability to manage this country’s wildlife and fisheries depends on hunting and fishing license sales as well as excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, fishing equipment and motorboat and small engine fuels. Thus the entire industry has a vested interest in making sure we’re developing the next generation of conservation stewards.
One effort in particular stands out because of its sophisticated approach in an industry not known for its marketing savvy. The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing campaign is dedicated to getting more people involved in fishing, boating and aquatic stewardship.
While at the North American Conference, I talked to Stephanie Hussey, RBFF’s director of state initiatives, about the organization’s formula for success. Stephanie, who has been with RBFF for 8 years, describes fishing as a gateway activity – a fun, user-friendly sport that can lead people to try boating and other outdoor pastimes.
Though accessible, there are a few barriers to fishing, namely not knowing how or when to do it or where to go, Stephanie said. People who used to fish but quit report their most significant obstacle is a perceived lack of time.
That’s why RBFF has geared its Take Me Fishing campaign to encourage families to spend time together on the water.
“Parents don’t frame photos of their kids playing video games,” Stephanie quipped. “Through our advertising and promotional efforts, we work with state agencies to capture the excitement and memories associated with boating and fishing. It’s a campaign that not only creates awareness but encourages a broad range of audiences to move towards participation.”
In addition to media plans, direct mail and other tools to create awareness and action, RBFF offers a comprehensive Web site that will have novice and experienced anglers clicking for more. Visit www.takemefishing.org to locate places to go, buy a fishing license, learn about equipment and boats as well as different kinds of fish you can catch and strategies to catch them.
Stephanie also recommends that once you’re in the swing of things, check out Fishington, the fishing and boating capital of the internet.
“Fishington is a social network for anglers where they can share tips and stories and find hotspot lists, boating access points and more,” Stephanie said. “It helps to create a culture that fosters interest in fishing.”
A new game will be introduced at Fishington in June that will allow people to win prizes, including the grand giveaway, which is a boat. Stay tuned for more details on that, but suffice to say the more you play, the more you can win.
Another great RBFF program is Anglers’ Legacy. This program is about giving back by making a promise to introduce somebody new to fishing – a family member, co-worker, neighbor or acquaintance at church. Stephanie said it’s easy to sign up and doesn’t cost anything to participate. Plus, you’ll get a quarterly newsletter full of tips and information. All you have to do is take a pledge to introduce someone new to fishing and then follow through.
For those who coordinate or teach at an outdoor program, you’ll find great resources and help in planning your event at www.rbff.org.
The one thing I came away with from attending the North American Conference is that it’s not all doom and gloom. Sure there are some challenges to the future of hunting, shooting and fishing. But there’s also a cadre of smart and dedicated people working to find solutions. And the folks at RBFF are a fine example of that.