Making a Big Splash

Trout fishing reels in big bucks for government at all levels.

Izaak Walton was to the art of fishing what John Maynard Keynes was to modern economics. Caught in the muse, Walton contemplated the value of angling in his book The Compleat Angler, saying that "It will prove to be like virtue, a reward to itself." Fishing's great apostle knew what recompense could come, if only measured by an intangible pension.

But the economic benefits of angling are tangible-and quite measurable. A recent peer-reviewed study conducted by James Caudill, an economist at the Fish and Wildlife Service, shows that fishing for rainbow trout produced by the National Fish Hatchery System sends ripples through economies, making a splash in the tills of businesses and government. Simply put, fishing for rainbow trout reels in big bucks.

Caudill conducted his research on fish stocked by 11 national fish hatcheries that produced more than 15,000 pounds of rainbow trout in fiscal 2004. Those hatcheries raised 9.4 million rainbow trout, providing nearly 4 million angler-days on the water. Fish raised in the national hatcheries are stocked in public waters. In the case of rainbow trout, stocking is typically below dams, where the release of colder water from behind the dams creates trout habitats. Retail sales on items related to rainbow-trout fishing-food, gas, lodging, guide fees, bait and tackle-amounted to $172.7 million. That spending provided jobs for 3,502 people and income of $80 million.

Those wage earners contributed back to public treasuries-$2.9 million in state income taxes and $10.6 million in federal income taxes. The bottom line, according to Caudill's study, is fishing for rainbow trout generated an economic output of $325.1 million in one year.

Taxpayers who fund the National Fish Hatchery System paid $5.4 million to produce rainbow trout in 2004. This means that for every budget dollar spent on rainbow trout production, that dollar moves through the economy fueling $32.20 in retail sales and $36.88 in net economic value. This is not an actual cost-benefit analysis, but it is clear that rainbow trout coming from the national fish hatcheries provide a profound economic stimulus with significant returns to public treasuries.

There is another benefit. Scientists at the hatcheries stand in the presence of the past; the Fish and Wildlife Service, begun in 1940, had its genesis at the U.S. Fish Commission, created in 1871. Embodied in rainbow trout are 135 years of experience, science and technology.

The rainbow trout you find under plastic at your grocery store is not the same one you might tussle with at the end of your line. Those from the national hatcheries are managed through brood stocks and strains, with specific standards for defined purposes, such as facing the rigors of the wild. Some are meant for a quick put-and-take; others are stocked to grow for a long time and to a large size. All the hatcheries benefit from the work of nine Fish Health Centers nationwide, where scientists ensure that fish stay healthy and that pathogens are not spread.

Rainbow trout are by far the most popular cold-water sports fish in this country, and the Fish and Wildlife Service works in partnership with state agencies and Indian tribes to keep them thriving. Long-standing agreements to culture rainbow trout date back 70 years.

Walton's book cut to the essence of why people fish, and it's not about the economics. More than 35 million people in the United States buy fishing licenses every year. Walton wrote of the essence and values that anglers hold dear, and those are unchanging, evidenced by the fact that The Compleat Angler has been in print since 1653. It's telling, too, that a volume about fishing is the third most reprinted book in English after the Bible and the works of Shakespeare.

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