The New Orleans Boat and Sportshow has kicked off the spring fishing season for the past 39 years, but the 2010 event has been canceled largely as a result of the economic downturn.

"It was a very, very difficult decision for us to make," National Marine Manufacturers Association's Cathy Rick-Joule told today. "We just don't have enough exhibitor participation to have a successful show for the participating exhibitors or for the consumer."

The next show has been set for Jan. 5-9, 2011.

Rick-Joule said the economic downturn has put a lot of financial pressure on boat dealers, the core of the consumer shows, all over the country.

"The just don't have the money; they don't have the product," she said. "There's no co-op money from the manufacturers, who are waiting to get up to speed themselves."

That has set up a vicious circle in which dealers are having problems moving existing inventory and therefore can't order new product.

"Everybody is just struggling to keep the doors open day to day," Rick-Joule said. "So that has to be our focus now."

Rick-Joule said there have been some encouraging signs.

"The consumers who do come to our shows are serious about what they want," she explained. "The consumer confidence seems to be improving."

However, a significant overall improvement in the industry isn't expected until the end of 2011 or perhaps until 2012, she said.

"It's going to take us a while, but I think we'll definitely see things back on track by then," Rick-Joule said.

And future shows are likely to be much different than the tested model of the past several decades.

"The consumer wants to see more value," Rick-Joule said. "They want to see more things for the kids, more things for the wives, more seminars. We've got to keep ramping up the value of the ticket price."

The Internet also is already playing a much more important role.

"At our winter shows, consumers can go on the Web site and search by price, by type (of boat), make appointments with dealers so when they get to the show they can actually sit down with the dealer," Rick-Joule said.

Rick-Joule said her organization also is working to use the Internet to generate business for dealers throughout the year.

"There's just a much greater ability to drive traffic (with the Internet)," she said. "We can't do things the same way we have always done them. It's just a much different world."