Nags Head, N.C. — Recreational fishing license sales are sinking, down about 40 percent from 2007. The decline affects tackle shops, hotels, marinas and tourism along the North Carolina coast.
“The crowds this year have been pretty thin so far,” angler Richard Boyce said of fishing on the Outer Banks.
Brian Long, of the North Carolina Marine Patrol, says he hasn’t noticed a decrease in the number of serious anglers dipping a line in state coastal waters.
“I'm going to have to say it's gas and geography,” Long said of why vacationers may be staying away.
“It (gas) does put a hurt on it when you wanna come down. It's a couple more dollars each time,” Boyce said.
The loss of fishing license revenue is also hurting the environment. The fees support the state's Wildlife Resource Fund, which monitors and improves wildlife habitats.
Ironically though, wildlife habitats may also be affecting sales.
“They've closed down the south end of Oregon Inlet. That's prime fishing area. That's one of the reasons we come down here is to come fishing,” fisherman John Fenley said.
Abiding by a settlement of a lawsuit filed by environmental groups, the National Park Service has closed several miles of beach traditionally used by fishermen. The closures aim to protect nesting birds and turtles.
The state also blames last winter's poor striped bass fishing season for the decline in license sales. However, Long said fishing can be fickle despite outside factors.
“When the fish are biting, I think people are going to show up to go fishing,” he added.
The state doesn't yet know how the drop in fishing license sales will affect wildlife programs; however, no cuts are currently planned.