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May 14, 2013

The Economics of Recreational Fishing

If sport fishing were a single industry, it would be top tier in the Fortune 500.

In the not-too-distant past, a derogatory put-down of the sport-fishing industry was: “That is just a bunch of guys who play with their food.”

Well, that commentary was wrong then and even more so today. Now, thanks to a new fishing-statistics report produced by the American Sportfishing Association and released in January, there are some real numbers to prove what many of us knew all along: The sport-fishing industry is an economic powerhouse that supports the long-term sustainability of our valuable aquatic resources, and provides a healthy pastime to 46 million adults and children.

ASA’s report, “Sportfishing in America, an Economic Force for Conservation” looks at the sport-fishing industry as a whole, which generates a very impressive $48 billion in sales, creates a $115 billion impact on the nation’s economy, and supports more than 828,000 jobs. This report was produced by Southwick Associates for ASA, and it sourced its data from the Department of the Interior and Commerce, Fortune magazine, the National Sporting Goods Association and ESPN.

While the current participation rate is skewed toward freshwater fishing — as only about one in four anglers fish in salt water — the demographic trend of ­populations moving toward the coastline should mean more saltwater anglers in the future. From an overall perspective, growth of the sport has been robust since 2006, with a growth of 11 percent in the five years between national surveys. Of the ­top-10-ranked states for angler expenditures, six are coastal states. Florida, with a very long coastline, comes in No. 1 in just about every category.

Also, fishing-tackle sales grew above 16 percent in the past five years, when growth in a lot of industries was flat or negative. More U.S. citizens enjoyed all kinds of sport fishing than participated in tennis and golf combined.

Saltwater sport fishing makes up a substantial portion of the overall numbers. About 9 million saltwater anglers fished a total of almost 100 million days. This generated about $13.5 ­billion in retail sales, more than $32 billion in economic activity, roughly $10 billion in wages, and almost 250,000 jobs. While we are not a big fan of taxes, when they are used to enhance the activity that pays them, they are beneficial. Marine anglers generated $2.3 billion in federal tax revenue and almost another $2 billion to the states. Wow! If the sport-fishing industry were a single business, it would be ranked 51st on the Fortune 500 list. If that is the benefit of “a bunch of guys playing with their food,” bring it on.