Missing Pieces Distort Fisheries Economics Picture (again)

Posted on November 04, 2015

With a press release announcing the new 2014 Fisheries of the United States (FUS), NOAA Fisheries has continued to present a distorted picture of the nation’s fisheries and who generates value from them.

The release touts the importance of healthy fisheries by stating that commercial fishing generated $5.4 billion in revenue in 2014. But there is absolutely no mention of the amount of money that recreational fishing generated. They have the estimates and could provide them, but they didn’t. If you look back at 2011, the last time NOAA produced recreational expenditure estimates, recreational fisheries generated $23.4 billion in a single year! If you extend those estimates to the 2014 effort estimates presented in the current press release, recreational fishing generated $24.4 billion in 2014. That is 4.5 times HIGHER than the commercial contribution.

Why is this so vexing? There are two reasons.

First, NOAA is aggressively patting itself on the back for sustainably managing fisheries for the economic benefit of the nation, but misses 82 percent of the revenue generated by fisheries in this country - why wouldn’t they toot their own horn about the recreational revenue, too?

Second, that additional 82 percent of value, $24.4 billion worth, is generated on only 186 million pounds of mortality. That commercial $5.4 billion is generated by 9.5 billion pounds of dead fish. The vast majority of that recreational spending is generated on released fish – fish that can be caught again and again, generating more and more revenue into the future.  

There is nothing wrong with publicizing that, is there? Certainly it shouldn’t be hidden.

It has been explained before that NOAA Fisheries doesn’t want these numbers side-by-side because they don’t want to stir up trouble regarding allocations in various fisheries. So let’s concede that revenues will never be the sole basis for allocation and instead focus on the non-partisan issue that the majority of that $5.4 billion in commercial revenue comes from fisheries without a recreational component. Fisheries like Alaskan Pollock worth $400 million. Only one fishery, salmon, in the top 5 highest revenue generating fisheries even has a recreational component.  Those top five fisheries, minus salmon, represent 45 percent of all commercial fisheries value.

When you realize that 77 percent of all commercial fisheries value is generated by species that recreational anglers do not even catch, it makes you wonder why NOAA Fisheries resists including the revenue generated by recreational fishing, particularly since it poses no threat to commercial allocations or concerns.

NOAA Fisheries should want to celebrate that 186 million pounds of harvest generated $24.4 billion dollars, and the American public deserve to know the value of their fisheries and who really generates that value. Not only did NOAA Fisheries NOT celebrate these facts; they left them out of their annual fisheries report that highlights the basic economics of all other fishery sectors with no mention of economics of recreational fishing. We, and others, have been pressing NOAA Fisheries to include these metrics from recreational fisheries for years and yet they continue to give the most valuable use the short shrift.

That doesn’t paint a very pretty picture of the agency’s relationship with the recreational angling community.