by Eric LaMontagne Nearly two out of every three Vermont residents hunt, fish or watch wildlife. This is second only to Alaska as a percentage of population participation in these activities. In fact, according to a 2015 University of Vermont study, “the most recent national survey of wildlife-related expenditures, Vermont residents and out-of-state visitors spent approximately $685 million a year on hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing (U.S Fish and Wildlife Service 2012).”
Looking at the latest annual numbers from the American Sportfishing Association, fishing in Vermont by residents and non-residents generates $147.1 million in retail sales, resulting in an additional $225 million of economic impact. It supports more than 2400 jobs and $73.2 million in wages and salaries, while generating $15.9 million in local and state tax revenues.
From the die-hard to the weekend-warrior, the seven-generation Vermonter to the traveling vacationer, Vermont’s angling community has a significant impact on Vermont’s bottom line.
So why does it, in the eyes of the State, make sense to jeopardize this entire industry for want of $250,000?
That may seem like a sensationalist question, but it is far from it. The current proposal to close the Salisbury Fish Hatchery, the state’s primary source of brood-stock, does exactly this. This would devastate fishing opportunities, harm rural economies, and cripple long-term efforts to restore fisheries. Trout stocking alone accounts for $31.6 million in economic impact. The anticipated consequence of mothballing this facility would drastically reduce almost all trout stocking programs in the short term, and after stabilizing over the next 5-10 years, stocking capacities would be permanently reduced by an estimated 25%. Deliberately limiting angling opportunities and disincentivizing license sales does not make sense.
The form-letter received by concerned anglers points a finger at declining license sales as a justification for this closure. This is a false flag. Nationally, fishing license sales are up about 8% and here in Vermont they are up around 3%. It is a recreation – a healthy, outdoor, universally accessible recreation – that is increasing in popularity. It is a revenue stream increasing in potential. We should be investing in fisheries infrastructure to take advantage of this national trend. This move to divest of infrastructure, create barriers to recreation, and limit our revenue streams just doesn’t make sense.
The decrease in fishing participation that will inevitably result from both a real and perceived decline in angling opportunities will also lower how much assistance Vermont receives through federal excise taxes on fishing equipment. Last year Dingell-Johnson contributed $3.5 million to the state of Vermont, money which supports wildlife conservation, water quality programs, and other programs to the benefit of all Vermonters. Passing up free federal money simply doesn't make sense.
The form-letter also points to the need for $13 million in infrastructure upgrades to bring the facility into compliance with waste-water requirements. Many people, including esteemed water-quality organizations, are questioning whether these upgrades are actually necessary at all, or if some much less expensive steps might be taken. Even if this money needs to be spent, ignoring a virtually guaranteed 240% return does not make sense. This is a one-time investment to protect a facility that is the foundation for $31.6 million annually. This is an investment to support an industry employing 2400 Vermonters and providing more than $70 million in wages.
Numbers don’t lie. Closing the Salisbury Fish Hatchery just does not make sense.
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