Most of us think of fishing as wholesome recreation that brings family and friends together in beautiful outdoor settings. It may conjure memories of that unforgettable first catch, or that stream side conversation with dad when the fish weren't biting. But we rarely think of fishing as big business. Well, we should.
Nationwide, anglers spend a staggering $36 billion annually on their hobby, enough to put sport fishing at number 40 on the Fortune 500 list, well above corporate power Johnson and Johnson. These anglers support more jobs than General Motors, Ford and Exxon-Mobil combined.
Closer to home, 517,000 anglers age 16 and older fished in Utah in 2001, a number that rivals the combined populations of Salt Lake City, Provo, Ogden, St. George, Layton, and Taylorsville.
According to a survey recently released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's, these anglers contributed nearly $400 million to the Utah economy through purchases of equipment, food, lodging, transportation, and licenses associated with their fishing trips.
But these figures tell only part of the story. A dollar spent for some fishing line at the local sporting goods store doesn't stay in that store. It goes to employees and owners who, in turn, spend that dollar elsewhere in the community. The rounds of spending that ripple through the economy are known as the "total multiplier effect."
Drawing on the results of the survey, Southwick Associates has calculated that the direct retail purchases of Utah anglers translated into a total economic output approaching $1 billion.
In other words, if anglers stopped spending their money on fishing and did not spend it elsewhere, the state economy would contract by nearly $1 billion.
By any measure, the survey results are impressive, yet there are several points not made in the survey that deserve emphasis.
First, because the wildlife agency figures only include anglers age 16 and older, they greatly understate the total economic contribution of fishing.
Second, participation in fishing in Utah in 2001, and the associated economic activity it generates, increased dramatically since the last survey in 1996. Fishing is a growing sport.
Third, much of the spending by anglers goes to small businesses in small communities. Few other growing sectors of the economy provide such a disproportionate benefit to rural Utah. The governor recognized this trend in establishing the Blue Ribbon Fisheries Countil to identify the best fishing in the state and to work with state agencies to provide those fisheries with enhanced protections and recognition.
Fourth, Utah's premier fisheries draw anglers from throughout the West and beyond. Out-of-state anglers bring their wallets along with their fishing rods, improving our "balance of trade" with our western neighbors.
Finally, anglers help protect our lakes, streams, fish and wildlife for the enjoyment of all Utahns. Nationwide, sportsmen and women contribute $1.7 billion annually to conservation.
Many dedicated anglers work on stream restoration and other habitat projects in our state. In addition, fishing license fees and federal funding tied to fishery projects contribute over $12.7 million, or 25 percent, of the Division of Wildlife Resources' total budget.
The numbers send a clear message; in a time of shrinking state budgets, economic contraction, and even drought, maintaining fishing opportunities in Utah can provide jobs and tax revenues that benefit residents in our urban and rural communities.