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Since the advent of modern wildlife management, hunting and fishing license dollars have paid most of the bills.
So when the number of Utah fish license buyers declined from more than 500,000 in 2001 to fewer than 400,000 last year, Division of Wildlife Resources bean counters were more than a little concerned.
There are more than a few theories about why thousands suddenly quit buying licenses.
They include Americans not being in the mood to travel or recreate after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; more complicated regulations; drought; fewer available hatchery fish; and the state's increasing urban population becoming less interested in the natural world. The drop from an eight- to four-trout limit might have contributed to the decline.
New DWR sport fishing coordinator Roger Wilson said success at Strawberry Reservoir, the state's premier trout water, often plays a major factor in license sales. When fishing is good there, sales tend to increase.
Since the survival of many of its programs requires revenue generated from fishing license sales, the DWR is working hard to promote angling. Call the agency and chances are you will hear a promo about how great fishing is in Utah.
The agency created a 365-day fishing license, which means that anglers who decide to buy a license in July do not need to renew it again until the next July. That might make buying a license late in the year for a family trip more enticing.
Wilson suggested other possible strategies.
Biologists want to simplify regulations.
The DWR is working with its sister agency, the Division of Parks and Recreation, on a plan to offer discounted midweek entrance fees to state parks, such as East Canyon, Rockport, Jordanelle and Deer Creek, if someone in a vehicle can display a fishing license.
It might institute a "second pole" option, in which anglers who want to use two rods can buy an extra permit that would be good statewide.
Another idea would be to offer a group or family discount to encourage more social fishing.
The state might offer more trophy fishing at underused reservoirs, such as Calder and Brough in eastern Utah, for anglers who want to use artificial flies and lures and catch fewer but bigger trout.
Wilson said once-popular Scofield Reservoir has seen a major decline in angling in recent years and that, as an experiment, the agency is considering raising the trout limit there from four to eight.
DWR Director Jim Karpowitz said the agency has seen an increase of about 20,000 anglers this year over the same time a year ago. As possible reasons for the increase, he credits full reservoirs from high water runoff, the 365-day license, an increasing number of urban fishing areas and the reopening of three fish hatcheries that have increased the number of trout that can be planted.
"Things are coming together," he said. "We've had a great fishing year."
Still, the decline in fishing license sales in the past six years remains a major concern for the DWR, one of the few state government agencies dependent on users to fund its basic operations.
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