NOAA report reaches to compound the interest and rewards of sport fishing

In a press release on the occasion of its 2016 Fisheries of the United States report, released Nov. 1, NOAA offers up this paean to recreational fisheries:

“Saltwater recreational fishing remains one of America’s favorite pastimes and a key contributor to the national economy — with 9.6 million anglers making nearly 63 million trips in 2016, catching more than 371 million fish (61 percent of which are released alive), and in 2015, contributing $36 billion to the national economy.”

Here’s what the agency has to say about commercial fisheries:

“Also in 2016, U.S. commercial fishermen landed 9.6 billion pounds of seafood (down 1.5 percent from 2015) valued at $5.3 billion (up 2.1 percent from 2015).”

In other words, deck dogs, thanks for nuttin’!

It’s hard to overlook the agency’s citation of recreational fishing’s $36 billion contribution to the U.S. economy vs. a commercial harvest valued at a mere $5.3 billion. The mainstream press will see the figures as confirming what many of us regard as the wearisome hype of recreational interests about the munificence of their sector.

And to think, they throw most of the catch back alive! What a wonderful fishery!

NOAA is offering us an apples-to-oranges comparison if ever there was one. The commercial figure represents the dollar value of landings, whereas the recreational figure is based on esoteric economic models and multipliers. The reality is that by NOAA’s own accounting, U.S. commercial fisheries contributed $46.7 billion to the gross domestic product in value added alone — in other words, not counting multipliers.

Setting aside for a moment one obvious question: why not use multipliers in assessing the value of commercial catch? I would ask another one: what is the basis for the value of recreational catch?

The answer, of course, is that there is no basis. No one knows what recreational fishermen catch, least of all NOAA, and what’s caught isn’t sold. The agency estimates the catch is 371.6 million fish taken on an estimated 63.1 million fishing trips. The harvest (fish kept or released dead) is estimated at 144.6 million fish. That means, depending on your tolerance for estimates predicated on estimates, that 61 percent of the recreational catch — 226.7 million fish — is released alive.

These estimates are legitimately fodder for discussion — beginning with the assumption that three out of every five fish that are caught and released live to hit another hook — but they are certainly not data.

Commercial fishermen, on the other hand, are under data siege. Landings and discards are not only itemized, they are in many cases witnessed by observers trained by NOAA (and paid by commercial fishermen).

There is no question that recreationally caught fish have value — people are willing to spend money to catch them — but saying they’re worth $36 billion as a result of the multiplier effect of activities associated with angling is a dicey business.

As Eric Crampton, head of research with The New Zealand Initiative, wrote in March, “Counting [recreational]fishers’ spending on groceries and restaurants during fishing trips as an economic impact of fishing… only makes sense if fishers would not have eaten anything if they had stayed home.”

Anyone who spends time with NOAA’s report will recognize that the commercial harvest of fish is a substantial driver of the national economy. Why, in a report intended to illuminate the masses, NOAA chooses to trumpet the soft science of a data-poor economic impact assessment is beyond me, and a little worrisome.

About the author

Jerry Fraser

Jerry Fraser, a former commercial fisherman, is the publisher of National Fisherman.

  • Go Lemmings

    I moved to Juneau, Alaska about 59 years ago and love to catch and eat King Salmon. It’s fun, but mostly what’s rewarding about it is you get to catch your food… and in Alaska it only makes sense. Catch and release is just torturing animals for the sake of your fun watching them suffer, but if your food otherwise comes from thousands of miles away at great cost, then fishing for food only makes sense.

    Back then I expected to catch a king salmon in twenty minutes or so in Auke Bay in the spring time. Now it is sometimes closed at that time of year. You wouldn’t want me catching the kings before the tourists arrive would you?

    Commercial fishing has been present the whole time but it’s only been in the last 20 years or so that charter sport fishing has arrived. Now non residents catch more kings than residents and the average time it takes to catch one is something like 96 hours. You can cut that time in half maybe if you know what you’re doing, but I don’t fish around town anymore because all i do is dodge boats.

    Meanwhile I went to work for the fish and Game Department as a Habitat Biologist. I would get Sport Fish Division surveys that always asked me where I fished and how many hours but never if I caught anything. They were concerned with rod hours and the value of the fish. If the fisher came from Saudi Arabia and had to fly, pay for a hotel, charter a boat etc.. then that was the big money fish.

    So now the way it works out is that the non resident that comes by air, stays in a hotel or fish camp and hires a guide is the guy you manage for. Commercial fishermen come next because they get money for their fish, pay taxes , buy gas, hire mechanics.. etc. But my fish that I catch for personal consumption… subsistence, is worth nothing.

    I have a commercial hand troll permit but it’s only because that’s the only way i can be sure of catching fish. It’s non transferrable, so it’s also worth nothing.

    As a long time Alaskan resident who loves to fish and eat fish I feel like everyone is ripping me off…

  • TK

    An incredibly ignorant attack on American citizens.

    Jerry Fraser speaks using unknown information and specious claims. Jerry fails to verify recreational fisherman information yet happily insults recreational fishermen and their contributions to America.

    All in defense of commercial fishery’s paltry $5.3 Billion harvest.

    There are several minor Sportfish tracking mechanisms:
    A) Recreational Hunters and Fishermen lobbied for and got enacted two extremely powerful acts:
    – 1) Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 (16 U.S.C. 669-669k; P-R)
    – 2) Sport Fish Restoration Act (Dingell-Johnson DJ) of 1950

    These acts charge equipment excise taxes. Taxes that directly provide for wildlife, i.e. fish populations by the “Sport Fish Restoration Act (Dingell-Johnson DJ) of 1950” was $627,740,000 dollars in 2016 alone!

    Funds that are actively used to restore fish populations. Populations, Jerry Fraser believes should be reserved for greedy commercial fishermen alone.

    In 2017 29,400,950 people purchased recreational fishing licenses; spending $708,688,945.00 in license fees.
    Yet, Jerry Fraser spits on an estimated $36 Billion dollar financial benefit generated by 29 million fishermen. To reach that conservative $36 billion number, recreational fishermen only need to spend $1,241 dollars each. An easily reached number when charters, hotels, equipment, rentals, etc. are taken into account.
    Up to now, recreational fishermen have not complained when NOAA and government spends Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish funds on studying or restoring salt water fish.
    Ungrateful jerks spreading falsehoods can certainly cause those benefits to be eliminated.
    Keep up the divisive sneers Jerry!
    Piss off 29 million recreational fishermen enough and you’ll see results.

  • Jessica Hathaway

    Asking for equal multipliers and fair treatment is not an insult.

  • TK

    You have a strange understanding of language if you believe that.

    Jeffrey’s only use of the word “ask” is demanding the value of a recreational catch. Jeffrey overlooks that recreational fishermen do not “sell” their catch; but 100% of the fish caught by Americans is eaten in the United States.
    Can commercial fishermen make that claim?

    I provided basic numbers for total fishermen, the amount spent on licenses and the excise taxes gathered from the sale of fishing equipment; all easily verified.

    Not included, but easily estimated and tallied are the other expenditures incurred on fishing trips. i.e. road trips, motels, access fees, taxidermists, and yes food.

    In spite of Jeffrey’s attempt to minimize one expense, it is not cheap to eat far from home near public waterfronts. Nor are we talking yuppie starbucks coffees or outback steaks. Even hot dogs are several times the cost of buying a dog at my local quick mart.

    Based on Jeffrey’s preference for logic that people eat at home; I must assume that when National Fisherman sends it’s reporters on trips, the same logic is applied and no “per diem” is allowed for meals.

    Basically, in spite of your novel language interpretation, Jeffrey rants and raves while blaming recreational fishermen.

    Please note:
    This is what a recreational fisherman stated at a recent red snapper hearing.
    “By any measure, the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico should be held up as a shining example of proper management and good conservation. But as this hearing demonstrates, that is not the case. We aren’t here today to highlight a conservation success story. Unfortunately, we are here because red snapper is known throughout the nation as a man-made fishery management disaster,’ Ray said. ‘After decades under intense federal management, this is the best that anglers can hope for — a three-day season in federal waters in 2017. I don’t think anyone would declare the current situation a success. All we ask is for is a system that allows all stakeholders the best opportunity to enjoy and use those resources. I am here today to ask this you to give us that chance.”

    This after commercial fishermen told newspapers in 2014:
    The Gulf’s Red Snapper Fishery Makes a Comeback”.
    A claim directly related to NOAA’s gift of “catch shares” to commercial fishermen; where three quarters of the red snapper catch is given to commercial fishermen.

    Yet, recreational fishermen did ask for the best opportunity for all involved shareholders.

    Again, I point out that pissing off 29 million recreational fishermen is not the brightest thing to do.
    When those recreational fishermen collar their representatives, fair and equal treatment for 29 million recreational fishermen may exactly be what they demand.
    Thank Jeffrey for the “us versus them” selfish viewpoint.

  • Edwin Lamberth

    With all due respect, I don’t think you understand the economic model used by NOAA. The model DOES take into account the fish you catch for personal consumption. It takes into account the gas you buy, the license you purchased, the tackle and bait you bought, etc. etc. All of this goes into the model.

    So, while I can’t speak for any of the local regulations on kings in your area, I can assure you that the value you add as a recreational fisherman is taken into account.

  • Edwin Lamberth

    The author lambastes the recreational fisherman and the recreational numbers, but then uses the exact same “value added” calculation to bolster his argument that commercial fishermen and women generate more dollars. That is nonsensical. The “value added” calculation for commercials is the exact same economic model for the recreational “value added” number. So if the recreational number is wrong, so is yours. Further, the author fails to take into account that the value added number for commercial includes imported seafood, which is 90%+ of seafood sold in the U.S.

    So don’t attack NOAA for using accurate numbers.

  • Go Lemmings

    Just found this.. Edwin, I’m not a sport fisherman. I enjoy fishing but most important to me is getting something to eat. The fish I catch are worth nothing compared to the fish that someone from Dubai might catch after a flight to Juneau, my home town, hotel and guide fees. The fish are technically owned by Alaskans in common but residents are not the primary beneficiaries of this ownership. We are not even a small part of the picture economically and nobody cares if we catch anything.. including our state Fish and Game Department.. what they care about is the money we spend on gas and tackle… not much compared to what the commercial fleet or the sportsmen spend.

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