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Paying people not to fish?

Yes, you read the headline correctly! And, now, you’re scratching your head like I am, right?

It seems that NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, which is part of the Department of Commerce, is undertaking a socio-economic study in Massachusetts by offering cash to saltwater anglers in exchange for giving up their right to fish for the rest of 2012. According to the Recreational Fishing Alliance, those licensed Massachusetts anglers who go for the deal will receive up to $500 apiece when they give up their fishing license and all rights to fish in state waters.

Now before you start firing off e-mails to Washington, you should know that paying people for research studies isn’t all that uncommon these days. Just go on Craigslist, for example, and you can get bucks for joining studies on maladies like osteoarthritis or fibromyalgia. Moreover, we in the boating industry have long urged the NMFS to undertake socio-economic studies of fishing to better understand the immense positive social and economic impact of fishing. But, it’s probably safe to assume no one in the boating and fishing industries ever expected paying anglers to give up their fishing rights would be a chosen study method.

You have to question what will really come out of this study, assuming a sufficient number of anglers give up their fishing to make the study statistically valid. Hopefully something good for fishing because it’s likely going to have a negative impact on local boat and fishing businesses.

According to already existing NMFS socioeconomic data on saltwater angling habits, the final economic impact within the Massachusetts coastal fishing community amounts to approximately $201,425 in overall consumer spending. But, the RFA says that may not be the whole story.

For example, for fishermen 16 and older, total annual expenditures by saltwater anglers average about $1,151 per person, with $219 spent annually on food & lodging, $137 on transportation expenses, and $795 per angler directly on fishing equipment and services. But, if dad “sells off” his fishing rights it seems predictable he's not taking the teens and pre-teens fishing in 2012. More loss not included.

In addition, U.S Fish & Wildlife data indicates that there are approximately 298,000 saltwater anglers in Massachusetts who, in 2006, spent more than $494.6 million on saltwater fishing tackle alone. Approximately 69 percent of those anglers fished by boat in 2006, meaning that fewer fishing trips will result in less money spent on boat preparation, docking, fuel, and other services directly related to marine dealers and marinas. The result is a negative trickle down impact within the Massachusetts coastal community. If the idea is to measure what happens to small businesses when the government pays customers to stay away, this study should be a landmark!

In reality, the NMFS is responding to the widespread call for better socio-economic data on recreational fishing. As boaters and anglers, we’re absolutely for that. We’ve called for it. Nevertheless, this particular method – well, it’s hard to fathom the idea of paying people not to fish.

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