I have been picking the brains of folks whose job it is to figure out where our hunting and fishing is headed. And what can — or must — be done to prepare for the changes coming.

The discussions have involved owners of saltwater and freshwater fishing outfits, reps of state and national wildlife agencies, and some of the people involved in putting on — and continuing to put on — the various sportsmen expos we chase this time of each year. While individual perspectives vary a bit, as you might expect, the overall outlook was surprisingly uniform.

It may be useful to look at fishing and hunting futures and changes separately, and then consider approaches to our overall outdoor future.

The future of ocean fishing, in the eyes of the Pacific Northwest ocean charter owners was summarized repeatedly as “more cost, less opportunity,” particularly as it comes to salmon. Reasons given included increased state and federal regulation, changing and varying ocean temperature patterns, severe predation from sea lions, cormorants, and pikeminnows, and growing concern for the well-being of Pacific Coast orcas.

Coastal conservation groups and charter associations are working increasingly with federal and state regulators to find solutions — particularly in those situations in which protected species like sea lions are heavily impacting threatened and endangered species like salmon. The newly-appointed director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Aurelia Skipwith, spent a day during last weekend’s Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show in Portland speaking with fishing and hunting industry representatives and the public about the role of her agency in streamlining regulations and working for a sustainable future for the fishing and hunting with which she grew up. The agency, she noted, was committed to supporting the role of fishers and hunters in conservation — and to remembering that conservation is as much about people as it is about wildlife. There are a number of initiatives underway to protect and increase fish stocks while dealing fairly with the predators which must also be managed.

Determined to remain as viable businesses while all these issues are worked to restore salmon and steelhead seasons, limits, and availability, charter operators are increasingly marketing abundant bottom fish such as sea bass and lings, and various seasons for both catch-and-release and catch-and-keep sturgeon.

In the meantime, sportsmen’s show planners, such as the O’Loughlins (owners of several shows in the West, including the Puyallup and Portland shows) are watching the ocean fishing efforts and noting new trends among the fishers attending their shows which may also attract new attendees.

Over the last couple years, for example, as ocean salmon fishing has struggled, a significant growth is seen in surf fishing and kayak fishing (literally hundreds of folks lined up for advice and coaching at booths and talks during several of this year’s shows). In response to more limited inland river fishing for salmon and steelhead, a good many of the river guides are marketing trips for walleye and bass. The sportsmen shows are seeing an increase in marketing of fishing tourism on large inland lakes, and an uptick in interest in warm water fish such as bass, perch and panfish, along with the fairly abundant trout found across the interiors of Pacific states.

On the hunting side of things, conversations were even more intense. You’ve been hearing about the concern over dropping numbers of hunters across the country — and the subsequent loss of the revenue needed to manage wildlife — for some time. Maybe you saw the recent article in the Washington Post which focused on the impact of that diminishing number of hunters, and their dollars, on endangered species management. We will continue that large and looming conversation next week.

In the meantime, there are groups in which we are seeing — and will see — significant growth in hunter numbers. The fastest growing of them is women. In surrounding states, and several others, fish and wildlife agencies and private groups now offer special workshops specifically to train women in finding, getting and caring for fish and game animals. Our Washington Outdoor Women (WOW) group is a prime example. Several states are noting something that our local Kittitas County Field and Stream Club Basic Hunter Safety course instructors have seen for some time — half and more of their students are women and girls. The O’Loughlin group, and other sportsman show producers are hiring and recruiting women leaders and speakers, who are attracting increasing numbers of women to hunting and fishing. And with them are coming more kids and youth than in many years.

More young urban adults are suddenly wanting outdoor lives that include game and fish. How they are being recruited, and supported, is very different than how many of the rest of us found our paths into hunting and fishing. That fascinating process, and a lot more about our changing outdoor world, when we continue this next week.

See you in Yakima this week, at the Central Washington Sportsmen Show, where this “future” conversation continues.

Jim Huckabay is retired from the Department of Geography at Central. His “WILD WINDS and Other Tales of Growing Up in the Outdoor West” is available online and at bookstores. Contact Jim and join in discussions at www.insidetheoutdoors.com.

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