Friday, May 17, 2013

Stakeholders say fishing report needs more study

Conservationists, economic experts weigh in

Express Staff Writer

Fishing equipment is displayed for potential buyers at Silver Creek Outfitters in Ketchum on Wednesday. A recent report stated that anglers spent almost $23 million on fishing trips in Blaine County in 2011, but some say the numbers deserve a closer look. Photo by Roland Lane

     Local economic development and conservation experts said this week that value statistics about fishing released by the state show the possibility for further study and development in this area.

     The Idaho Department of Fish and Game last week released 2011 spending data for anglers that fished across the state. The report stated that anglers spent just under $23 million in Blaine County in 2011 and more than $548 million in the state. On average, Blaine County anglers spent an average of $233 per trip, compared with $198 per trip across the state, the report said.

     Harry Griffith, executive director of the Sustain Blaine economic development group, said Wednesday that while the information is useful, he thinks that this sector needs further study.

     “I think it’s great that they do this, and I think it’s great information,” he said. “That said, there are some procedural issues.”

     First, Griffith said, the report says nothing about how much of the $22 million spent actually remains in Blaine County. For example, he said, revenue generated by fishing licenses is likely redistributed across the state, and therefore the $430,438 that the agency estimated anglers spent on licenses in Blaine County might not actually be contributing that much to the local economy.

     Furthermore, he said, the numbers reported are what he called “spend numbers,” which do not necessarily measure economic impact.

     “This is more of a simple process,” he said. “Spend is how much revenue is generated, but it doesn’t measure how much stays into the community.”

     A similar study conducted in 2003 by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game put spending by anglers in Blaine County at $17.5 million. That indicates a 25 percent increase in nine years, which Griffith said is “not unreasonable.”

     “It’s gone up, but if you look at it on an annual growth basis, it’s not that much,” he said. “It’s around 2.8 percent per year.”

     Griffith said the study also doesn’t necessarily account for the economic impact caused by people who move here for the fishing.

     “We have world-class locations and a world-class reputation,” he said. “It’s very similar to Nordic [skiing] in that sense. People see this as a quality-of-life opportunity, and as a result, they get converted from a day tripper or occasional visitor to someone who is putting down roots here. That’s hard to quantify.”

     Scott Boettger, executive director of the nonprofit Wood River Land Trust, said much of the economic impact of fishing in the valley is due to conservation efforts, which also should be included in further economic studies.

     “Numbers are one thing, but there’s an intrinsic value that fishing brings to the valley and helps us to gain a sense of place,” he said. “It brings people in, it brings businesses in, and it has immense other benefits besides the dollars.”

     Boettger said his organization is looking to expand the fishing opportunities—and economic impact, as a result—in the valley through projects south of Magic Reservoir and Bellevue, as well as near Hulen Meadows north of Ketchum.

     “Those opportunities could almost double the fishable miles in the valley,” he said, adding that it could draw more anglers but also help spread current anglers out, possibly reducing crowds in some areas.

     Griffith said he is planning to conduct his own study in the near future based on data from fishing-related retailers as well as the Fish and Game data. He said he expects his numbers to be similar to those from Fish and Game, but he will use the same process he’s used when uncovering the economic impact of Nordic skiing in the valley, so the two numbers will be comparable.

     Boettger said he’s looking forward to working with Griffith on the study, and that he appreciates the work done by Fish and Game as well.

     “It’s nice to see these numbers and know that there is an economic value to maintaining the fisheries,” he said.

Kate Wutz:

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