My column this month is not about fish biology, fish habitat or how to catch fish. It is not about fishery management in the way you probably think of fishery management — topics like size limits and bag limits.
But it is very much about fishery management and providing anglers with quality fishing opportunities.
It is about money: the economic value of fishing.
Every five years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partners with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Census to estimate numbers of anglers, hunters and outdoor recreationists. The last survey was in 2011.
Nationwide, 30 million anglers spent almost $42 million in 2011, and 25.5 million freshwater anglers spent almost $26 million. Trip-related expense was the biggest chunk of fishing expenses, totaling $14.5 million.
Nice to know, but management of most fishery resources is done by state agencies, and most of us do at least some of our fishing in Mississippi.
So let’s look at Mississippi. More specifically, let’s zero in on two lakes — Sardis and Grenada — that have become popular destinations for both Mississippi resident anglers and non-resident fishermen from all over the country because of the high-quality crappie fishing these lakes provide.
A multi-disciplinary team of Mississippi State University researchers conducted year-long creel surveys at Sardis and Grenada to estimate number of anglers and hours of fishing. Willing anglers were mailed a survey to obtain more-detailed information.
Here are the results:
Resident anglers made 31,074 trips, and average trip length was 1.2 days. Total annual resident fishing effort was 37,289 days.
Resident anglers spent an average of $58.77 per angler per day.
Direct expenditures were substantial, but the economic value is far greater because these direct expenditures cycle through the economy, generating jobs and providing revenue to fishing guides, restaurants, motels, gas stations, bait and tackle stores, and other businesses. Total annual economic impact from resident fishing-related expenditures was slightly more than $1 million.
Non-resident anglers made 2,133 trips, and average trip length was 4.1 days. Total annual non-resident fishing effort was 8,747 days.
Non-resident anglers spent $70.52 per angler per day. Total economic impact from non-resident fishing-related expenditures was $1.1 million.
Resident and non-resident fishing at Grenada supported 51 full- and part-time jobs.
Resident anglers made 45,140 trips, and average trip length was 1.2 days. Total annual resident fishing effort was 54,168 days.
Resident anglers spent an average of $43.63 per angler per day. Total annual economic impact from resident fishing-related expenditures was almost $2 million.
Non-resident anglers made 10,174 trips, and average trip length was 3.7 days. Total annual non-resident fishing effort was 37,643 days.
Non-resident anglers spent $55.02 per angler per day. Total annual economic impact from resident fishing-related expenditures was almost $4 million.
Resident and non-resident fishing at Sardis supported 75 full- and part-time jobs.
What does this have to do with fishery management?
State budgets are strapped, and Mississippi is doing better than some states in terms of funds for fisheries management.
But here’s the reality: In tight-budget times, money will go to “essential” services like education, health care and public safety. While Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’ mission includes conservation of natural resources, a substantial portion of their activities are directed at providing recreation — hunting, fishing, camping, playing at the many state parks.
Regardless of how much you value opportunities to fish, funding for recreation will not be a high priority for those who decide the state budget.
So, what does this have to do with fishery management? Everything, because without sufficient funds, active fisheries management efforts that provide quality fishing opportunities and access to them will decline.
Do you think non-residents travel to Grenada and Sardis and pump more than $5 million into the Mississippi economy because the fishing is poor?
And here’s another way to look at this: The Mississippi State study determined that resident Grenada anglers would spend 27 percent of their fishing-related expenditures out of state if they could no longer fish at Grenada. And resident Sardis anglers would spend 47 percent of their fishing-related expenditures out of state if they could no longer fish at Sardis.
Quality recreational fishing opportunities are an economic engine. They make money for Mississippi, and they keep Mississippi money in Mississippi.