Hunting, fishing and bird watching aren`t normally considered big business in Mississippi, but with an estimated annual economic impact of more than $2 billion, clearly outdoor recreation is more than just good, clean fun.
Fishing is the most popular outdoor recreational activity in Mississippi with an estimated 579,000 residents who fish. There are an estimated 433,000 hunters in the state, and another 579,000 Mississippians engage in the “non consumptive” category of outdoor recreation that includes bird watching, hiking and camping.
That`s a total of 1,463,000 people in Mississippi who participate in some form of outdoor recreation.
Direct expenditures for those activities total $532 million for fishing, $501 million for hunting, and $185 million for non-consumptive uses, according to a survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Direct expenditures total $1.2 billion.
When indirect economic impacts are also added in, fishing has an impact of $924 million, hunting has an impact of $870 million, and non-consumptive uses have an impact of $322 million. The economic impact totals $2.1 billion per year.
“When you see a total economic impact of $2 billion, if we were a private business, that would be considered a big business,” said Tommy Shropshire, director of budget for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. Shropshire said. “It is something I think that historically people have taken for granted, that they can go outside and go hunting and fishing. I hope we can continue taking it for granted for a long time.”
Businesses in South Mississippi that cater to people with a taste for the great outdoors report that business is brisk.
“We have more people walking through the door,” said James Parker, assistant manager of E&B Boatgear Discount Marine in Biloxi. “I think that is due to the increase in population. We have more people on the Coast, and more income. I don`t think we are as poor as we used to be. When you look at the jobless rate, it is the lowest it has been in the history of Mississippi. We have more jobs, more people and better income.”
Parker said he`s seen a trend towards more families coming into the store, primarily looking for power boat supplies and toys that accompany them like waterskis, tubes, and knee boards. Clothing is also popular.
Boating is apparently popular not only on the Coast, but statewide. Currently there are about 268,902 boats licensed in Mississippi, which represents about one boat for every ten residents in the state.
Non-traditional boats like jet skis are very popular, but sales of new jet skis have declined since a peak in 1995.
“The popularity of jet skis hasn`t gone down, but new sales have gone down because the market is pretty much saturated with used watercraft,” said Bill Perkins, Perkins Tire and Polaris in Pascagoula. “There are a lot of good used watercraft out there. Consequently new sales are not as high. Nationwide new personal watercraft sales are down 40%, but that doesn`t mean the usage is any less. It just means the market is saturated with good used personal watercrafts.”
Perkins said that sales of jet skis in 1995 went off the charts. Sales declined in 1996, and then plummeted drastically in 1997. As a result, most dealers were required to take on the surplus 1997 machines to sell in the 1998 season.
Perkins said one disadvantage of the personal watercraft business is its seasonality.
“Normally if you have an inventory of personal watercraft in stock after Labor Day, the chances of selling them before winter months are slim to none,” Perkins said. “In September the summer is winding down, school is starting, and the hunting season is starting up. Interest in personal watercraft pretty much takes a nose dive.”
Perkins Tire and Polaris gets around that disadvantage with diversity. Just as personal watercraft sales are declining, sales of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are increasing. ATVs sell year around, with the most sales in the autumn months when few personal watercraft will be purchased.
“You need to be diversified in today`s marketplace,” Perkins said. “If you are depending on personal watercraft alone, you probably aren`t going to do well. In 1995, you could sell every personal watercraft you could get your hands on. But it has gone downhill from there.”
Perkins also sells motorcycles, and said interest in mid-size cruisers is increasing dramatically. He said Polaris has introduced the Victory motorcycle, which is so popular all are sold before they ever get into the showroom.
“We have a lot of white-collar workers involved in the sport,” Perkins said. “You might go by on the weekend and see a guy with fake tattoos and faded blue jeans riding a motorcycle, and he may be doing brain surgery on Monday.”