OSWEGO, NY – Some Oswego businessmen and city officials are looking for ways to reinvigorate the local fishing industry – specifically along the Oswego River.
Some changes have been made along the river that are impacting everyone, Council President Ron Kaplewicz pointed out at Tuesday’s Administrative Services Committee meeting.
“We are not fish friendly; we may be a lake friendly city for fishing, but I’m not sure we’re river friendly,” he said. “In our heyday on this river, literally from September through November, you could find folks on both sides of the river … standing shoulder to shoulder fishing on that Oswego River. You don’t see that anymore. That’s not the case anymore. And, that concerns me. There are tourism dollars being lost. And, certainly, businesses are suffering.”
Phil Reitz, owner of the Reitz Dinner, told the councilors that the city’s promotion of river fishing has been “lackluster.”
“I’ve seen the decline (in fishing) probably from about 1992 to today. When I was about 11 years old, I ran a hot dog stand behind the restaurant (along the river) and it was just how you said – shoulder to shoulder,” he said. “We had people who had been coming for like 30 years. Those people aren’t here anymore.”
He took over the dinner in 2006. His fall sales have declined “somewhere around 60 percent” because of the lack of (river) fishing tourism, he told the committee.
“That’s pretty alarming,” he added.
The decline can be blamed, in part, on the recent poor economy, he said. It’s also due to “DEC harassment,” he continued.
Other factors include over-regulation on where fishing is allowed, lifejacket requirements and siren warnings forcing people out of the water.
“I also think it’s because we don’t properly promote our resource,” Reitz said. “It’s a tremendous resource that we have, the lake and the river. I think the whole thing could be promoted better. Promotion is lackluster at best. At worst it is non-existent.”
Aside from being the Port City, Oswego should be the Fishing City as well, Reitz said.
The river is a strength in a declining economy, he added. Buying some worms and paying a couple dollars in gas to drive here to fish along the river is cheaper than a charter on the lake, he pointed out.
He told the committee how fishermen would come up to him and complain about how undercover DEC officers and slap them with a $150 ticket for something trivial.
He also talked about the restrictions placed along the river in response to the drowning deaths of some fishermen.
Larry Muroski of the Oswego Salmon Shop told councilors that fishermen need to be allowed access again to Letto Island, a popular fishing spot along the river.
Councilor Mike Todd noted the city has been in discussions with state representatives for months trying to get access to the site.
“It’s basically, the state wants that land, and they figure if they can freeze people out, they’re going to get it. They’re basically trying to make a land grab,” he said. “We’re not happy about it. We have pretty much demanded that they at least open it up to foot traffic because it’s costing us money. Nobody’s getting very far dealing with the DEC. The Canal Corp. wants it. It’s an uphill battle.”
When he was a kid, everybody fished, he said, adding that today they play video games instead.
The decline in river fishing is the combination of several things, Kaplewicz said.
They have to get the word out that “we are open for business,” Mayor Tom Gillen said. “I don’t think that message is getting out as well as it should.”
“Nobody should have to listen to that,” Todd said of the rising water sirens. “You should know enough to get out of the water and we shouldn’t have to regulate everybody else because you don’t.”
They have to meet with the proper authorities and come to mutually beneficial agreements, Reitz said.
Todd urged people to contact their state representatives regarding the Letto Island situation.
“We’re very aware of what’s going on,” Kaplewicz agreed. “I would suggest that, through the Mayor’s Office, we can have a sit-down with Brookfield (Renewable Energy Group, operators of the hydroelectric station in the Oswego River) again (along with others including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission). We have asked for petitions from the neighbors (near the river) that can re-enforce what we’ve been trying to say about the speakers, sirens and what-not.”
No firm date has been set for the meeting.