Fishing's Net Effect Unknown
by Elaine Williams
Lewiston Tribune, November 8, 2009
No one has really added up how much recreation brings to regional economy
It's a given that steelhead fishing brings money from outside the area into north central Idaho and southeastern Washington.
But experts don't know exactly how lucrative the recreational activity is. No researcher has studied the economic impact of steelhead runs specifically on north central Idaho or southeastern Washington for at least 10 years.
In the absence of such research, anglers' spending is hard to document for obvious reasons.
Hotel managers usually know only anecdotally that they have steelhead fishermen at their properties through reports of housekeeping staff spotting gear in their rooms. Convenience store owners can guess that a bunch of guys dressed in outdoor gear buying beer and sandwiches at 6 a.m. might be heading out to the river, but they don't know for sure.
Some of the most solid figures come from Kathryn Tacke, a regional economist at the Idaho Department of Labor in Coeur d'Alene.
She says that in 2008, 4,722 people on average were employed by tourism in north central Idaho and that employment in the sector peaks during the fall when steelhead are in the region's rivers.
The 4,722 represented about 11 percent of the 44,175 jobs in the region, Tacke says. Tourism accounts for 2,043 or 9 percent of the 22,835 jobs in southeastern Washington. That compares with a national average of 10 percent.
Generally the jobs pay about $12,000 a year compared with the regional average of $31,000 a year in north central Idaho and about $10,000 a year in southeastern Washington compared with the regional average of $32,708.
Among the highest-paying jobs are for outfitters, who generally charge about $200 per person for daylong trips. But even some of them have to travel to places such as Alaska to fill in for the times when the salmon and steelhead seasons are closed here.
And Tacke acknowledges even her numbers have limitations. Not every job in the tourism category is related to steelhead, even in the fall, because that's the season for hunting too. Restaurants are in the tourism category and a large share of their business usually comes from people eating out when they're not traveling.
At the same time, Tacke says, some jobs that are supported at least partly by steelhead anglers aren't reflected in the tourism segment because they often buy food at convenience and grocery stores.
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