Teach a child to fish and, well, you know the rest

By Patrick Lyons

Capital News Service

LANSING — Project FISH is focused on teaching a new generation of anglers, hoping to reverse the decline of Michigan fishing license sales.

Lagging license sales and waning interest in the sport have Michigan officials taking action to spur youth fishing. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The project teaches water ecology, fishing techniques, rules and ethics of fishing and other skills like cleaning and cooking.

A Project FISH — Friends Involved in Sportsfishing Heritage — workshop will be held March 6-7 in East Lansing.

Project FISH was started in 1995 by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan United Conservation Clubs and the Great Lakes Fishery Trust, said Mark Stephens, the education program coordinator. Since then the program has spread to 37 other states. The program supports teacher development and is funded through donations and the sale of fishing equipment online.

Stephens said Project FISH also educates parents, because if parents are comfortable fishing they’re more likely to take their children fishing.

Stephens encourages young anglers to purchase licenses to promote stewardship of the state’s waters because license fees go toward funding the department of natural resources and keeping water clean.

Anglers under 17 don’t need a license, but may purchase a youth license for $2. The federal government supplements that fee bringing in a total of $6 to the DNR, said Jim Dexter, acting chief of the Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division.

Adult license sales have decreased by 10 percent over the past five years, Dexter said.

Currently, the fee is $15 for a license that does not cover trout or salmon and $28 for an all-species license.

The department is partially funded through hunting and fishing license fees and the excise tax from the sale of hunting and fishing equipment. Dexter said that revenue to the DNR has also been decreasing because people are buying less outdoor equipment, and participating in fewer outdoor activities.

“That is significant because these licenses provide a vast majority of the funding for the DNR to operate and there have been budget reductions every year for several years now,” Dexter said. “Research has been showing that there is not as much free time in 2012 as there was in 1960. People are working longer so they have less time to do those things with their children.”

The DNR will host its annual Free Fishing Weekend June 9-10. All license fees are waived for the weekend, encouraging people to fish.

The loss of funding has forced the DNR to reduce maintenance at its fish hatcheries and conduct fewer environmental surveys, but it has not cut back on stocking lakes and streams, Dexter said.

License prices haven’t increased since 1997, which has further strained the DNR budget as operating costs have risen, Dexter said.

Dan Thomas, president of the Great Lakes Sport Fishing Council in Elmhurst, Ill., said it is important to get kids hooked on fishing for a number of reasons.

“It gets them started on something that is enjoyable and it’s a good pastime,” Thomas said. “And number two, they won’t have time to run the streets and get involved with bad things.”

Dexter said that getting children involved early is important to creating lifelong anglers.

“It’s the rare person that started fishing or hunting when they were 28 years old,” Dexter said. “Most of the people who have been doing it for a long time got started learning from grandpa, or their dad. Things like Project FISH are designed to introduce newcomers to the recreational activity and hopefully get them hooked.”

Thomas said because Michigan is surrounded by the Great Lakes and has a large number of quality inland lakes, it is unique in the region.

And Dexter said that the state has 20,000 miles of designated trout streams and some of the best steelhead trout fishing in the world.

  • Elizabeth

    Good article. It is sad to see the decline in fishing licenses purchased. I would be interested to see how this compares to the time period when a spouse didn’t have to shell out a lot of money to join the husband or wife on fishing outings, so the whole family could go. When the structure of license sales encourages fishing as a family activity, the next generation is more likely to learn to love fishing.

    I realize the licensing framework is not the only factor affecting cultivation of the next generation of residents who enjoy fishing, but — especially in this economy — it certainly contributes. I hope to see changes so fishing licenses are no longer cost prohibitive for families.

  • Scoop

    Still at it? Wow. C’mon man, life is good. So many fish to catch. The young anglers in my home town can cast off the pier and land brown trout, pike and smallmouth bass right now (and all the carp, suckers and bullheads they care to). In early spring, they can land rainbows in the rivers; in fall, brown trout, coho salmon and chinooks in those same streams. In winter, they’ll get browns and rainbows through the ice, with some pike mixed in now and then, again on the rivers. Inland of course there’s always bass and panfish, not to mention walleyes, pike and muskies. No need for a fancy boat.

    I’m a life-long fish-eater and part of a study on contaminants in fish eaters’ blood and hair. Blood tests and hair samples show no significant accumulation of PCBs or mercury. PCBs were way worse in the 70s and have been dropping since. Look at the huge rebound in bald eagles, cormorants, etc. If fish were so full of contaminants, think they’d be doing so well? My wife regularly ate younger Great Lakes fish of many species while pregnant (salmon, trout, perch, smelt, walleye and more) and guess what? No low birth weight babies — lowest was 8-5, biggest was 10-9! — and no developmental issues. In fact, all three are tops in their classes and could jump a grade if we wanted them to. The fishy cancer scare by Michigan’s National Wildlife Federation in the late 80s got national headlines in print, radio and TV for the “1-in-100,000″ risk of getting cancer if you eat Great Lakes fish, or “1-in-10,000″ if you ate fish from one of the worst rivers. Wow, considering one in two men and one in three women will get some sort of cancer in their lifetimes, I’ll take my chances with the health benefits of eating Great Lakes fish … heart healthy, brain healthy. Just properly prepare them by removing skin and any visible fat and cook in methods where additional fat can drip off if you’re concerned, and follow consumption guidelines if you want. They’re written to be n the conservative side just in case.

    Yes, the electronic generation doesn’t fish and hunt as much any more, nor do they join the JCs, Lions Club or any or any of a dozen other civic and sporting clubs. Look around at any club, fishing-related or not. Lots of white hair. The younger generations for the most part aren’t joiners. Blame it all on MTV or whatever else you want, but not salmon and steelhead Tom. Your one-man war against a multi-billion dollar fishery is at odds with the economies of dozens of Great Lakes ports.

  • Nostral-damus

    Teach a child to fish and Brian the Beard will complain about asian carp, am I right??

  • Tom

    I’m sorry but increasing an invasive species, is not in the publics best interest. Fear of loss? See ya! Good Riddance to bad rubbish! Take your salmon back west, where they belong. I’m sorry but this effort, has no common sense. If you could get rid of Asian Carp tomorrow, but the “Asian Carp stakeholders” stopped you, carp jobs! What would you do? Ram the alewives down the publics throat, then charge the public billions to fight invasive species? Arrogant, does not begin, to describe what’s been going on here! The greedy leading the blind, perhaps.

  • Brian Koz

    Personally, rarely eat fish, why shoot your therapist after a session? There are other options. When I brought a trout home for dinner a few years back, my daughter gasped and questioned-”are they going to kick you out of Trout Unlimited?”- Funny, but not. Selective harvest is critical, but I would much rather eat a tasty bluegill or walleye- both well sustained fisheries as of right now. I think the most important issue is connecting the youth of today with the outdoors, hopefully showing the X-box/PLaystation3/Wii generation the importance of our environment and to be future stewards of the waters we are blessed with. We have purchased the youth license for three years now, she feels like an adult and proudly carries her permit in her fishing vest- just like Dad. Tight Lines~ Get out and Get wet!!
    Koz
    http://www.truenorthtrout.com

  • Tom

    Catch and release, in Florida, they say one bonefish is worth $75,000 bucks because many people can get a chanace to catch it. I’ve been playin catch and release for 5 years, just to protect the resource. Since the DNR just annouced thier big push ti fill Lake Michigan back up with alewives, I will not encourage anyone to purchase any more license than have too. I only buy the restricted fishing. I love brook trout fishing, but I refuse the help the DNR destroy our fishery. Alewives are an invasive species, that eat zooplankton just like Asian Carp filling lake Michigan with alewives is the same as filling it up with baby asian Carp, same impact on the natural environment. The alewife “stakeholders” are no different than the Asian Carp “stakeholders” who need to protect them to protect “carp” jobs!

  • GRAND Learning Network

    Truth be known that one of the reasons that I hear, and have experienced, of why there is a drop in fishing participation is because “the fish are not fit to eat”. This might be true for some fish in some waters but very rare as a whole. Especially, small first timer fishes. Here is a website for you guys to take a look at http://www.michigan.gov/mdch/0,1607,7-132-54783_54784_54785—,00.html

    You will be surprised at the quality of our fish in the Great Lakes. Funny how we don’t even question ocean fish at restaurants or tuna in cans, etc. Doug and Salmo make great points so to familiarize yourself and tell others to look at the site I sent, and make wise choices!

    Go fishing and take a kid or more! Thanks for your posts. I love when folks chime in about FISHING!

  • Doug

    Salmo makes a good point. However, I don’t feel that all is lost in terms of bioaccumulative toxins in fish. There are several things that we can do:
    -Work to keep airborne toxins and other toxins out of our waters, through better regulations.
    -Eat smaller fish, in particular those that are not major predators. Brook trout, for instance, are lower on the food chain, and don’t accumulate toxins at the level that major predators such as lake trout do.
    -Encourage the State to monitor toxins in fish, and post recommended consumption limits along with their fishing regulations, at boat ramps, etc.
    -Learn now to remove excess fat from fish before cooking them. Fat is where most toxins accumulate.

    We have to remember that there are positive as well as negative health benefits to eating fish. There are probably also more health benefits to us if we GET OUTDOORS AND FISH than if we DRIVE to the grocery store and buy a chunk of a cow.

  • Project FISH

    Great Article. Thanks for focusing on the issue of declining license sales. It is an issue with reduced license sales come the reduced ability to support programs that help to educate youth like Project FISH. This is where we can use the support of anglers, boaters and those who recreate in our Great Lakes. We always take private contributions to keep our programs going and growing, and we always encourage even those who do not fish but like our Great Lakes to purchase a fishing license so we can increase the funding of DNR Research and management of our waters.

    If interested you can make a secure donation to our Project FISH Fund at http://www.projectfish.org and we are always looking for new volunteers to be mentors for youth.

  • Harold

    “Things like Project FISH are designed to introduce newcomers to the recreational activity and hopefully get them hooked.”

    My little brother got hooked..and we had to take him to the doctor. He still likes to fish, though.

  • Salmo

    Teach a child to fish and, well, poison them slowly for the rest of their lives?

  • Tom

    My granddaugther is 7 loves fishin, more than, video games and sponge Bob. Caught her first fish at age 2. Any kid I take fishin, usually asks when they can go again. You can get any kid hooked on fishin, just give them something too catch. But the kid friendly fish in Lake Michigan, and connecting waters, are restricted, to protect the salmon fishery, not kid friendly. This started in 1985, whicj coincides, with the license sales drop (over 1/2 million since) and lack of interest. But it’s taboo to talk bad about salmon. I’ve dealt with both these guys, blaming video games is just an excuse. Put the quality or the nature back in nature if you will, you can get anyone into fishing, instead of ramming the salmon down everybodies throats! People go fishing to catch fish, if you don’t like salmon, too bad, you fish for leftovers.