An economic ‘treasure’ in lake

Just how significant of a resource is Lake Erie in Western New York? It is so powerful, that it brought together Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz on the same charter boat this week.

Both leaders, one a Republican, another a Democrat, were bipartisan in their praise of the Great Lake while taking part in the fishing and learning experience that was put together by the two county’s Fishery Advisory Boards.

But just like the annual budget process for the executives, the waters were not calm on Wednesday. Winds from the west had Lake Erie churning as participants and charter boat captains pressed on for a morning of angling.

For those who reeled in impressive catches, it was a day to remember. Overall, however, the big lesson was something we all cannot forget – how precious the lake is and how lucky we are to have it. The economic lesson: fishermen and women, specifically those who come from outside the region, are our friends.

“In terms of the number of people who are participating in any sport, fishing is number one in the country,” said Rich Davenport of the Erie County Fish Advisory Council. “Number two is bowling. That’s in terms of dollars, not numbers of people.”

Davenport spoke at the Conservation Club in Dunkirk during the lunch portion of the event regarding the potential economic impact the region is missing out on. For many in attendance who rely on the lake to make their living, they know the fishing season on Lake Erie is not just during the summer months. It can last from April through almost November.

“Out of all the Great Lakes, more angling hours are spent and more dollars are spent on Lake Erie than any of the others, believe it or not,” he said.

According to a recent state study, Davenport noted, the average tourist spends $50 a day. The average fisherman, as a tourist, spends $57 per day. Another study, by the Adirondack Coast Visitors Bureau, found that for every dollar invested in host fees and in-kind services for fishing tournaments, $95 was returned to the local economy.

With numbers like these, it appears our region is missing the boat.

In the meantime, Oswego County is right on course. Located at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, it is also home to nationally recognized Salmon River. A majority of its fishing licenses – nearly 55 percent – are sold to non-state residents. That means tourism money flows in, thanks to fishing.

In Chautauqua County, 11 percent of fishing licenses are sold to those from out of state. “It speaks to the volumes that we need to get together as a partnership … to bring this business in to Western New York,” Davenport said.

Those partnerships must include state, county and local governments.

On Thursday morning, a press release from state Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the Bassmaster Elite Series Tournament was returning to New York state next year. This year, the event is being held on the St. Lawrence River south of Massena.

“From the Finger Lakes to the Hudson River to Long Island, New York is home to world-class fishing for all anglers and these destinations are waiting to be discovered,” Cuomo said in the release.

Apparently, the Great Lakes waters have yet to be discovered in Albany. That, however, cannot dampen the spirits of those who were in attendance on Wednesday.

“No one else has what we have,” Davenport said. “That (lake) is a treasure.”

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.