A popular bumper sticker in Maine annoys me to no end, and it goes something like this: “Commercial fishing is more than sport.”

According to a summary of a report in the fall-winter issue of “Eddies,” a magazine from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, sports fishing annually generates $3.6 billion to the U.S. economy and 68,000 jobs to businesses, federal agencies, state agencies, private organization, tribes and too many more to list. Indeed, recreational fishing is more than sport, too.

America’s fishing business would rank no. 41 on the Fortune 500 List of America’s Most Profitable corporations. That placement puts recreational angling just behind retailer CVS Pharmacies and Verizon but ahead of the grocery brand Kraft. In fact, it puts sports fishing ahead of some singular commercial-fishing targets.

This annual figure of $3.6 billion figures out to $70 million per week and $10 million a day, and the 68,000 jobs include managerial, professional (biologists, etc.) and support staffs in government agencies as well as guides, outfitters, store clerks, restaurant workers, artisans and so forth. On and on it goes, and we’re talking just sports fishing.

Along with angling, sports like snowmobiling, skiing, hiking, wildlife watching, hunting and ATVing thrive in rural areas and draw tourists with a craving for the outdoors.

People couldn’t live in many far-flung rural hamlets without outdoors tourism. These sports create businesses and jobs in regions where making a living would be impossible without these seasonal influxes of money.

In Maine, fishing, wildlife watching, hunting, snowmobiling and ATVing form an economic base for many North Country residents, and a large majority of them work in tourism.

Besides common tourism jobs such as guides, lodge owners, chefs, snowmobile and small engine mechanics, Maine’s outdoor sports also produce work for convenience-store clerks, gas-station attendants, restaurant wait staff, sports-shop clerks, supermarket positions and so forth, jobs that allow folks to live in a rural hamlet because so many urban, suburban and exurban folks want to flock to forestlands and remote waters to recreate.

Resident fishing and hunting activists often get onto the bandwagon to promote the incredible economic benefits of outdoors sports, and they rally to improve — say salmonid populations, game herds and snowmobile, ATV and hiking trails — just to name a few.

Surely, these folks push to improve resources that spur economies, but deep down, many of them are just like me. What’s good for a tourist economy is also good for my sport.

If we can catch big landlocked salmon, brook trout and bass or find big-racked moose for photos and meat, we’re happy. That’s part of what keeps activists without a monetary interest to keep pushing their agenda.

Sometimes, two groups squabble — say bird-dog hunters vs. early-season trappers, hikers vs. ATVers or bait anglers vs. fly rodders.

When opposing groups get together with open minds, though, they iron out differences on how to multi-use a resource — democracy in action.

Here’s an example of a conflict. Not long ago, a man into kayaking and backpacking introduced himself to me at Barnes & Noble in Augusta and turned the conversation to how ATVs generate laziness in sports folks.

I’m an anti-combustion-engine type, who owns a small pickup, snow-blower, lawnmower and roto-tiller but no motorized toys such as an ATV, snowmobile or ice-auger, but I disagreed with the “laziness” comment.

In my other life, I edit an outdoors magazine that runs ATV articles that often include an idea that refutes stereotyping ATVers as lazy. Most people work 40 hours or more a week and use ATVs to get themselves deep in the woods as quickly as possible in the late afternoon after work or to a backcountry spot on weekends.

In short, until these folks retire, they do not have the luxury of the time required to hike several miles through woodlands to reach a distant place where deer or brookies thrive. The ATV allows them to travel far from roads much more rapidly.

Here’s a little tidbit to end this column. Several years ago, a Boyle study at the University of Maine, Orono, showed that Maine residents individually spend more money per year on hunting, fishing, etc. than non-residents do. I doubt this trend has changed.

Which makes sense. Tourists often spend seven to 10 days in Maine, but we’re here 365 days per year and are often tourists in our state – say an Augusta fly rodder traveling to Greenville for a week or two each year or a Presque Isle angler heading to Popham to cast for salty targets like mackerel, bluefish or striped bass.

Yup, sports fishing is definitely more than sport … it’s a crucial business to Maine’s economy.

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