Report charts Lake Ontario fishing activity decline

Oswego, N.Y. – A new study of sport fishing on Lake Ontario
confirms what many observers already knew – that fishing activity
and resulting revenues have been in a steady decline for almost 20
years.

But the report also offers a framework for addressing and
possibly reversing those trends, according to the organization that
commissioned it.

New York Sea Grant, a cooperative program of the State
University of New York and Cornell University, issued a Lake
Ontario sport fishing outlook in 1990 which predicted that
downturn.

The agency is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration’s National Sea Grant College Program, founded in
1966 to promote the wise stewardship of coastal resources in over
30 university programs in every U.S. coastal and Great Lakes state
and Puerto Rico.

New York Sea Grant last month released its 2009 update of the
Lake Ontario sport fishing outlook, verifying that after a peak in
activity around 1990, fishing license sales, angler activity and
economic benefits associated with fishing have dropped
significantly.

The decline was prompted mainly by demographic and economic
changes, said Dave White, recreation and tourism specialist with
New York Sea Grant.

“We knew that as New York’s population changed, so would its
participation in fishing,” White said. “The trends mimic national
as well as state recreational trends. You have a changing family
structure. Many people got into fishing through the family
structure. If family doesn’t do it, many times we lose those
individuals.”

The loss of fishing participation on Lake Ontario and elsewhere
also has an economic impact that may not be readily apparent, White
said.

For example, there were 450 charter fishing businesses using
Lake Ontario in 1985, That number was estimated at 198 in 2002.

Fewer boats on the water may not be as dramatic or visible as a
large factory closing, but the cumulative effects can be just as
devastating on local economies, White said.

The report was designed to do more than prove what a lot of
people already knew or suspected, White said.

Now that proponents of Lake Ontario and its vast fishery can
point to the many charts and graphs that quantify the decline in
fishing activity – and the loss of dollars pumped into lakeside
communities – they can hopefully use that information to spur
discussions about solutions, he said.

Aggressive tourism and marketing campaigns and more efforts to
recruit youth into the sport are among the concepts that should be
looked at, White said.

Communities along Lake Ontario that benefit from sport fishing
can now sit down and think about ways they can be proactive at the
local level, he said.

“This gives us news we all knew, but having it in front of us,
we should talk about what we should do,” White said. “There are
some opportunities now. It gives us a slice of where we are at.

“We can work with tourism agencies and county development
offices, and let them know if this trend continues, we are going to
lose jobs,” White said. “There are opportunities. We have to look
outside the normal box.”

To view the report in its entirety, go online to www.seagrant.sunysb.edu.

Highlights of the study

€ In 2007, angler effort on Lake Ontario and embayments exceeded
1.5 million angler days and $54 million in expenditures in lake
border counties (Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, Wayne, Cayuga, Oswego,
Jefferson).

€ The first salmon runs in the Salmon River in Oswego County and
other Lake Ontario tributaries occurred in 1973. The salmon fishery
attained lakewide importance to sport anglers in the 1980s with
year-round activity.

€ A substantial number of stakeholders developed around the
salmon fishery: anglers, charter captains, sporting goods stores,
bait and tackle shops, guides, service sectors (lodging,
restaurants, groceries, convenience stores), local governments, law
enforcement).

€ Warmwater fishing for bass accounted for approximately 21
percent of all angler days lakewide in 2007.

€ The number of charter fishing businesses using Lake Ontario
increased from 33 in 1975 to 450 in 1985. Charter fishing trips
comprised almost 10 percent of all open-water fishing boat trips in
1990.

€ More than 80 percent of the open-water trips on the lake since
1985 have been for salmon and trout.

€ The estimated expenditures of Empire States Lake Ontario
(ESLO) fishing derby entrants in 2007 was $2.8 million.

€ Fishing effort for Lake Ontario peaked in 1990 and has trended
downward since. Peak fishing effort on Lake Erie occurred in
1989.

€ “We have found that in the year of a fee increase the number
of fishing licenses sold decreases sharply, but then rebounds over
several years,” report co-author and Cornell University researcher
Nancy Connelly says, “and, as would be expected, the model suggests
that as more fish are stocked, the number of licenses sold
increases.”

€ Brown and Connelly note that “the overall increase and
subsequent decline in (fishing) license sales in Great Lakes
counties in the 1980s and 1990s appears to be due primarily to
nonresident license sales.” A gradual decline in the number of
fishing licenses sold will occur as the population ages.

€ In 1990, the proportion of nonresident fishing licenses sold
was highest in Orleans (71 percent) and Oswego (70 percent)
counties.

€ Recreational fishing expenditures by anglers living outside
the county fished in were highest in Oswego and Jefferson counties.
The Western Basin counties – Niagara, Orleans and Monroe – attract
a more local clientele.

€ Boaters traveling from outside the Lake Ontario region to Lake
Ontario spent an estimated $38 million in 2003 and supported an
estimated 760 jobs in local communities.

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