Oswego County’s signature industry is caught in a downward spiral, according to a new report. Fewer people are fishing, those who do fish are coming to Lake Ontario and its tributary rivers less often, and the money to promote the regional fishing industry is shrinking.
The study, from New York Sea Grant, predicts that fishing trips to Lake Ontario will fall off by about a third in the next few years, draining $19 million from an $80 million business and costing 330 jobs.
$60 million of that $80 million was spent by anglers who live outside the county in which they were fishing.
(The annual report of the county’s Promotion and Tourism Office notes that bed tax revenues — one measure of the strength of local tourism — remained on an upward trend in 2008.)
Three things are happening at once to create the downward spiral.
First, fewer people are fishing. Dave White of New York Sea Grant says you might expect that as the Baby Boomers hit retirement age, they’d fish more. But he says what they tend to do is to sell their bigger boats and buy smaller ones, spending more time fishing waters safer for smaller boats such as Oneida Lake. Or they move away.
Second, those who are still fishing are fishing elsewhere more often. The study finds that fishing license sales peaked statewide in the mid-1990s and have generally (but not always) declined steadily since then. No county has more to lose that Oswego County. Before the fishing boom of the 90s, Oswego County was a consistent 7th among the 10 lakefront counties for fishing license sales. Beginning in 1977, the county rode a 15 year wave to become far and away the leader in fishing license sales, selling nearly 100,000 license in 1989 and 1990. Sales have fallen steadily since then, settling at about 60,000 licenses a year through 2007, good for second place in the state.
And third, the money to market the state’s fishing communities has been cut as state, county and local budgets come under increasing pressure. Money to advertise to out-of-state sportsmen is “one of the first things to come off the plate,” said White.
White said the study finds that the decline doesn’t have to be as harsh as predicted. He said his agency, an arm of Cornell Cooperative Extension, will try to work with counties and fishing communities over the winter to try to pool resources and look for new ways to get the word out about the quality of fishing along Lake Ontario.
He said the agency will also look for novel ways to let young people know about fishing. “Is there an opportunity to talk in the gym classes about angling because it’s an aerobic activity” that also allows teachers to discuss ethics and the environment, he said.
The news on the Lake Ontario fishery is not all bad. White said that because there are fewer anglers on the lake’s waters, “those people who are doing it are enjoying an exceptional opportunity,” catching more fish and larger fish. He said that though these waters are known for their salmon fishing, fishing for bass and walleye fishing is emerging as a growth area.