Hunting, fishing provide economic boost

LANSING – Despite drought conditions, low water levels and a rash of disease in the white-tailed deer population, fishing and hunting remained a boon to the Michigan economy in 2012.

With more than 1.19 million fishing licenses and more than 2.39 million hunting licenses purchased from the Department of Natural Resources between last March 1 and Jan. 17, 2013, the state surpassed its total revenue from the previous year by more than $375,000.

The license sale year runs until the end of February, but Denise Gruben, manager of licensing and reservations for the DNR, said most sales occur before the end of the calendar year.

Despite the increase, Sharon Schafer, the head of the DNR’s Budget and Support Services Division, said the state still lags about $400,000 behind projections for the fiscal year, which began last Oct. 1.

Schafer said she is not surprised revenue is lower because of a bout of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, a lethal disease spread by insect bites through deer herds in at least 30 downstate counties.

“There were large die-offs in Ionia and Clinton counties and it affected a lot of areas throughout the state,” she said. “The herd will recover. Those areas were overpopulated.”

The outbreak of EHD, although prevalent in southern Michigan, did not affect the Upper Peninsula at all, according to Debbie Munson Badini, a deputy public information officer with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Badini attributes the avoidance of EHD to the U.P.’s colder temperatures. In addition, Badini said the numbers were looking good for the past year.

“We are doing well,” Badini said. “Everything looks to be on par or better than 2011.”

In Marquette County, the 2012 numbers included 34,257 hunting licenses sold, with a total revenue of just over $413,000. Fishing licenses for 2012 totaled 15,914, with that number expected to increase, and a total revenue of about $346,000.

Badini emphasized that fishing and hunting is a multi-billion dollar industry that goes far beyond the sale of licenses. According to Badini, these outdoor recreational activities contribute to the economy through the many people who visit the U.P. to fish or hunt and need food, lodging and equipment, which directly helps local businesses who offer these services. The money that comes solely from the purchase of licenses goes to the Games and Fish Protection Fund, where the money is used for wildlife and fishery management and conservation law enforcement.

So far, license revenues are more than $51 million, on par with the past several years. About $3.5 million goes for general state purposes, Schafer said.

More than 90 percent of the funds, however, remains with DNR, Schafer said, with the majority going toward the legal department, fisheries and wildlife, and the marketing and outreach division, which handles much of the sales.

“That’s about 20-25 percent of our budget, so that’s a big part,” Schafer said.

The economic impact of hunting and fishing industries is not limited to license fees.

In 2011, Michigan saw an estimated $2.36 billion in hunting-related retail sales and $2.46 billion in fishing-related sales, according to the National Shooting Sport Foundation and the American Sportfishing Association.

In late September, Pure Michigan began a three-month, $125,000 digital advertisement campaign to entice outdoor sport enthusiasts from nearby states such as Ohio and Indiana. It promotes Michigan hunting and fishing through online videos and ads on hunting and fishing websites.

The impact of these outdoor sports also affects other tourism-related industries, benefiting northern parts of the state.

One beneficiary of 2012’s hunting and fishing seasons was Steve Knaisel, owner of Pilgrim’s Village Resort in Cadillac, which consists of 16 cottages, seven motel rooms and a bait-and-tackle shop on the eastern shore of Lake Mitchell.

Between a spike in fishing during the summer, a relatively slow deer hunting season in the fall and an early ice fishing season this winter, Knaisel described his business in 2012 as “an absolute zoo.

“There’s no way to measure how important they are to us,” he said of hunting and fishing.

Knaisel said the economic impact was felt beyond the confines of his property and throughout the community.

Beyond a little heat exhaustion for some patrons, Knaisel said the summer drought had little adverse impact on his business. The shallower water did, however, mean more seaweed, causing a lower interest in watersports.

Mark Tonello, a fisheries biologist for the DNR in Cadillac, said an increase in weed growth is common in areas with low water levels.

He said by the end of the summer, lakes Mitchell and Cadillac were “as low as you’ll ever see them.”

Phil Schneeberger, a Lake Superior Basin Coordinator with the Michigan DNR Fisheries Division, said water levels is only one factor in how often fishermen leave the shores. Other issues can include weather patterns and the price of fuel for boats.

Schneeberger noted that although the level of effort was down a bit from the previous 10-year average, level of effort meaning the number of hours fishermen are spending on the waters, the past three years have been fairly similar and fishing in the U.P. still draws in a large crowd.

“We have such varied fisheries to offer people throughout the year,” he said. “The main thing is it’s just great how many people are getting outdoors.”

According to the Army Corp of Engineers, the average water level of lakes Michigan and Huron was 576.04 feet in mid-January, which sits about 2 feet below the long-term average and beneath the 1965 low mark of 576.1 feet.

Abbey Hauswirth can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 240.