A ripple spreads when a bobber plops in calm water.Waves of economic impact roll over Minnesota when all its anglers do the same.
“Though often perceived as a pleasant pastime, fishing is more than that,” explained Dirk Peterson, fisheries chief of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “It’s an economic engine that supports 43,000 Minnesota jobs, generates $2.8 billion in direct annual expenditures and contributes more than $640 million a year in tax revenues to the treasuries of our state and federal government.”
These figures, Peterson said, are based on a 2007 study that analyzed the economic impact of the nation’s 39 million licensed anglers, including 1.4 million in Minnesota. The study, he said, showed that Minnesota angling expenditures exceed those of 47 states. Only Florida and Texas anglers spend more money than Minnesota anglers. The economic impact of Minnesota fishing exceeds $4.7 billion per year when adjusted for expenditures on gas, lodging and the services purchased by fishing-related businesses, the study concluded.
“As an economic engine, fishing is more like a Mack truck than a mo-ped,” said Peterson. “You can easily hear it rumble through all corners of the state. Plumbers cranking wrenches. Truck drivers toting loads. Fry cooks flipping burgers. Many people make part or all of their living by servicing fishing-related businesses.”
Fishing’s importance to Minnesota cuts two ways for the state’s top fisheries manager. On the one hand, Peterson said, it’s inspiring to behold Minnesota’s strong fishing tradition. On the other hand, it is humbling to realize so many livelihoods are linked to water quality, fish quantity, and the health of our lands and waters. Said Peterson, “We’ve done many things right in this state. That’s why fishing is as good as it is. Our challenge is sustaining that quality in an era of on-going habitat loss, detrimental aquatic invasive species populations increasingly mobile and technologically adept anglers, and other variables that influence size and abundance of fish.”
Not surprisingly, Peterson believes a Legislative proposal to raise the price of most fishing licenses makes sense. That’s because additional revenue would offset the erosive effects of inflation, channel funds to emerging priorities, and help maintain the quality of the state’s fish populations. “License prices haven’t changed in a decade,” he said. “At $17, a year-long resident fishing license is a bargain. If it went to $24 it would still be a bargain compared to most forms of entertainment. Moreover, it would help strengthen the backbone of our state’s tourism economy.”
Peterson said during his 34-year DNR career he has clearly seen the link between sound fish management and results that draw Minnesotans and out-of-state tourists to the water’s edge. Thirty years ago, he said, Minnesota’s fishing reputation was eroding. It was becoming known as a state of “quarter-pounder walleyes and potato-chip panfish.”
This documented decline in angling quality gave rise to more aggressive research, management and a citizen input process called the Fisheries Roundtable. Outcomes of these efforts resulted in more effective fishing regulations, better understanding of fish populations and increased efforts to protect the places where fish spawn, raise their young, and find protection from predators. The agency also fine-tuned its walleye stocking practices, implemented policies to minimize the spread of fish diseases, and created a youth program to recruit new anglers and instill a conservation ethic in the next generation of anglers. Today, the trend lines for most fish species are heading in the right direction, both in terms of quantity and quality.
At Lake Winnibigoshish, for example, today’s angler is six times more likely to catch a walleye 19 inches or longer than a decade ago. Large smallmouth bass are four times more abundant in the Mississippi River between St. Cloud and Dayton than 20 years ago. Minnesota has become the nation’s leading destination for catching muskellunge 50 inches or larger. Lake sturgeon, some reaching more than 100 pounds, have become an important economic contributor to the fishing scene in far northern Minnesota.
And the list goes on, including positive trends in Lake Superior, southeast trout streams, and river systems in the south and northwest that harbor growing populations of large catfish.
“We support tourism by making fishing as good as it can be,” said Peterson. “And in most of the 5,400 fishing lakes we manage, it‘s as good or better than it has been decades.”
He gave much of the credit to employees in 28 field locations and 17 hatcheries, plus the partners they work with day-in, day-out.
“In many ways, we fish biologists are mechanics,” said Peterson, “We understand the role of each part. We understand how the parts work together. And we know that keeping Minnesota’s economic engine humming along requires an investment in monitoring, managing and repairing what needs to be fixed.”