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Fishery Officials Stress Economic Benefits of Fish Recovery

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - January 24, 2003

Fishery officials, as well as those who catch salmon, steelhead and other species, have stressed this week that the money and effort spent to revive Columbia River basin fish stocks is a wise investment.

And Mother Nature has given that theory validity, according to a panel assembled Wednesday to address the fish and wildlife managers that make up the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority's membership.

While recovery efforts have helped, a combination of natural forces is given a large share of the credit for greatly improved adult salmon and steelhead returns over the past three years. Good river conditions for juvenile outmigrants and favorable ocean conditions during their formative years helped swell adult fish counts to record levels for some stocks.

That allowed the region to sample what it might expect more often, in terms of fishing opportunity and economic benefits, if recovery is truly realized.

Much of the discussion during CBFWA's two-day members meeting in Portland focused on threatened cuts in spending through the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's (the Northwest Power Planning Council's new name) fish and wildlife program. The Bonneville Power Administration, which funds the program as mitigation for federal hydrosystem impacts, has estimated program billings during fiscal 2003 could total as much as $180 million. BPA, which is amidst a self-described financial crisis, has said it must cap fish and wildlife spending at $139 million, which could require the deferral or cancellation of numerous fish and wildlife projects.

Now is the time to build on the momentum provided by Mother Nature, not cut back, according to Larry Peck, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's deputy director. Those favorable ocean feeding conditions come and go in cycle. So making freshwater spawning, rearing and passage conditions more hospitable is important so that the effect on fish populations will be lessened when ocean conditions inevitably swing into a down cycle, Peck said.

"This is not just money going down a black hole," Peck said of the money being spent by states, Bonneville and others on fish and wildlife recovery. "There is economic benefit."

A recent WDFW publication highlights a statewide passion that generates nearly $2.2 billion in spending annually on fish and wildlife-related activities. That includes $854 million for fishing, which ranks eighth nationally among states. Commercial fishers caught about $145 million worth of fish, seventh nationally. And those rankings remain high despite the fact that both sport and commercial fishing has been limited to protect the many salmon, steelhead and resident fish stocks that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

And economic analysis of Idaho's 2001 fisheries showed 416,000 angers spent 4.1 million days fishing, which ranked the state 30th in the nation though its population only ranks 46th. Those fishing trips stimulated $681 million in economic activity and $6.8 million in state taxes. That year's fishing-generated economic activity provided 8,000 jobs, nearly double the total of 4,500 jobs estimated in a survey done 10 years earlier when fish populations were at a low ebb.

According to Idaho's Virgil Moore, the 2001 survey showed anglers spent about $75 dollars per day, about 35 percent of which was spent in stores and cafes and gas stations in the communities nearest their fishing destination.

The 2001 chinook salmon fishing season -- the most expansive opportunity offered in decades -- resulted in $46 million in angler expenditures for lodging, transportation, non-fishing and fishing supplies, groceries, etc. The IDFG estimated that the salmon fishery alone stimulated $89.9 million in direct and indirect economic activity.

For towns such as Riggins the revived salmon fishery had huge impact on the local economy with related expenditures accounting for 23 percent of the town's sales tax receipts for the year, Moore said. He is fisheries chief for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Idaho is also among the top 10 states in percentage of non-resident fishers, who also contribute to those local economies.

"We import fishermen," Moore said.

The recent upswing in salmon numbers have been a boon to those local communities and the many fishing related businesses and individuals her organization represents, according to Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. Anglers spent $18 million during 146,000 angler-days during a six-week spring chinook fishery in 2001 on the lower Columbia River mainstem -- also the most extensive opportunity in recent history. That amounts to about $406 spent for each salmon caught, she said.

That shows the sport's importance to anglers, and gives the region "an idea of what a fish swimming through my community is worth. They are worth their weight in gold," Hamilton said.

She, like Peck and others, said the region needs to urge BPA to fulfill its contractual commitments to fish and wildlife so that recovery momentum continues.

"Our industry doesn't want to start to go backward," she said. It has only started to regain some of the 10,000 jobs lost during the 1990s.

Hamilton and others stressed those economic benefits because they are measurable. The social and cultural benefits are unestimable but also very important, they say.

The Umatilla Tribes' Ken Hall said that any defense of fish spending must also include descriptions of what people gain from the experience, in addition to economic benefits.

The wholesome activity, deeply rooted in tribal cultural, brings "health values" to those who step outside their hectic day-to-day lives to fish and enjoy the outdoors. Preserving that opportunity is just as important as the economic benefits, he said.

That experience -- the aesthetic values -- are what his customers seek, said Bob Rees, president of the Tillamook (Ore.) Guides Association. He said he takes about 150 groups of anglers out fishing each year on the Columbia.

"There is a clear economic impact" in years when the salmon and steelhead returns are strong.

Wesely Edmo of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes acknowledged the economic benefit of recovery but said tribal members see the world through "a different lens." Cultural reasons drive their desire and fish recovery efforts.

Moore said that all of the economic talk was not meant to belittle cultural values.

"A recovered fishery provides for all of these values," Moore said.

Peck said the cultural, social and economic values should be packaged to send a political message about the need for fish and wildlife funding.

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission's executive director, Donald Sampson, said the fish and wildlife managers should press the Council and BPA to do an analysis of the "economic benefits of the dollars being spent" on program fish and wildlife program projects so that ratepayers better understand the positive impacts.

"There's a huge multiplier," Sampson said of the economic ripple effect fishing has on local economies.

Barry Espenson
Fishery Officials Stress Economic Benefits of Fish Recovery
Columbia Basin Bulletin, January 24, 2003

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