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Lake Ontario Trends Outlook May Prompt Action to Offset Decline
Great Lakes Sustainable Recreational and Commercial Fisheries - Press Release


  • Dave White, NY Sea Grant, Oswego, NY, 315-312-3042
  • Nancy Connelly, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 607-255-2830

Ithaca, NY, September 24, 2009 - Lake Ontario is New York’s largest sport fishery, in terms of both angler days and expenditures. At the peak of the lake’s fisheries’ growth, at least $100 million in angler expenditures accrued to communities on or near Lake Ontario, say researchers Tommy L. Brown and Nancy A. Connelly of Cornell University’s Department of Natural Resources. Their new report “Lake Ontario Sportfishing: Trends, Analysis, and Outlook,” published in partnership with New York Sea Grant, offers science-based predictions for the Great Lake’s future.
“Our goal was to develop a better sense of the factors associated with changing trends in fishing effort on Lake Ontario and to use that information to develop short-term fishing forecasts for the next three to five years,” Brown says.
“Armed with the information in this outlook, local community and sportfishing leaders can choose to be proactive about counteracting the trends predicted by the model,” says Connelly.
The researchers say a decline in fishing activity on Lake Ontario mirrors a declining interest in fishing and outdoor recreation seen nationally. Brown and Connelly predict a decline in Lake Ontario fishing trips of 32 percent with an associated decline in direct expenditures of $17.3 million to $19 million (in 2007 dollar terms) and 330 jobs in the next five years.
Connelly says, “There are ways to impact the future to help reduce the predicted loss of $19 million and 330 jobs associated with the lake’s angling activity if no action is taken.”
The report notes that DEC biologists suggest some anglers have already adjusted their fishing techniques to catch more bass. Connelly says if other anglers follow suit, the bass harvest could increase and perhaps reduce the predicted decline from 32 percent to 19 percent.
Statewide Survey Measures Angling’s Economic Impact

Analysis of a 2007 statewide survey of anglers fishing New York State waters estimates that anglers spent 1.5 million days fishing on Lake Ontario that year, spending on average $35 per day at the fishing site and $17 en route, creating an aggregate total expenditure of $80 million ($54 million at the fishing site and $26 million en route).
The impact of tourist-anglers - those living outside the Lake Ontario county fished in - is estimated at $60 million and 1,032 jobs. Approximately one-sixth of the U.S. portion of Lake Ontario’s fishing effort can be attributed to anglers who live outside New York State with just over half attributed to anglers who fished Lake Ontario from a county other than the one they lived in.
The average tourist-angler expenditures at the Lake Ontario fishing destination site were $53 per day ($43 million total for 2007).
Brown and Connelly point out that fishing’s economic impact includes local businesses hiring additional labor and purchasing goods to support the demand for their products and services.
“Each tourist-angler purchase starts a chain reaction of spending and re-spending that has a cumulative impact on the level of sales, jobs, and other economic components of the local economy,” Brown says.
The indirect value (related sector business spending) of angling to all seven Lake Ontario counties was more than $9 million in 2007. Induced value associated with the income of employees and business owners in all seven Lake Ontario counties in 2007 was estimated at $8 million.
Brown and Connelly note that “leakage” of fishing-related dollars out of the local economy is seen, for example, in money going to out-of-state fuel suppliers and costs associated with restaurant purchases from out-of-state growers and food processors.
The researchers measured the impact of fishing activity on Lake Ontario by the effects of tourist spending on jobs. The total number of full-time job equivalents attributable to recreational tourist fishing on Lake Ontario in 2007 was just over 1,000.
Brown and Connelly say the current recession could lower fishing activity even more or result in a shift in fishing-related tourism such as more day trips.
Brown and Connelly reviewed 30 years’ worth of data from New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), NYSDEC Cape Vincent Fisheries Station, and New York Sea Grant, and newspaper articles on Lake Ontario from the Syracuse Post Standard. Datasets and documents included Great Lakes’ states fishing license sales, recreational boating expenditures, charter fishing industry and fishing derby impact summaries, open boat fishing trips data, fiscal analysis of fisheries’ impact, water level impacts on recreational boating and associated businesses, reports on food web and fisheries’ impact, and angler surveys.
Funding for the study was provided by National Sea Grant College Program of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through the Research Foundation of the State University of New York on behalf of New York Sea Grant.
The complete publication, “Lake Ontario Sportfishing: Trends, Analysis, and Outlook,” is available for download (pdf).

Quick Facts from “Lake Ontario Sportfishing: Trends, Analysis, and Outlook”

by Tommy L. Brown and Nancy A. Connelly of Cornell University’s Department of Natural Resources, published in partnership with New York Sea Grant

  • In 2007, angler effort on Lake Ontario and embayments exceeded 1.5 million angler days and $54 million in expenditures in lake border counties (Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, Wayne, Cayuga, Oswego, Jefferson). p. 1
  • The first salmon runs in the Salmon River in Oswego County and other Lake Ontario tributaries occurred in 1973. The salmon fishery attained lakewide importance to sport anglers in the 1980s with year-round activity. p. 1
  • A substantial number of stakeholders developed around the salmon fishery: anglers, charter captains, sporting goods stores, bait & tackle shops, guides, service sectors (lodging, restaurants, groceries, convenience stores), local governments, law enforcement). p. 1
  • Warmwater fishing for bass accounted for approximately 21 percent of all angler days lakewide in 2007. p.1
  • The number of charter fishing businesses using Lake Ontario increased from 33 in 1975 to 450 in 1985. Charter fishing trips comprised almost 10 percent of all open water fishing boat trips in 1990.
  • More than 80 percent of the open water trips on the lake since 1985 have been for salmon and trout. p. 2-3
  • The estimated expenditures of Empire States Lake Ontario (ESLO) fishing derby entrants in 2007 was $2.8 million. p. 2
  • Fishing effort for Lake Ontario peaked in 1990 and has trended downward since. Peak fishing effort on Lake Erie occurred in 1989. p. 6
  • “We have found that in the year of a fee increase the number of fishing licenses sold decreases sharply, but then rebounds over several years,” report co-author and Cornell University researcher Nancy Connelly says, “and, as would be expected, the model suggests that as more fish are stocked, the number of licenses sold increases.” p. 8
  • The “Lake Ontario Sportfishing: Trends, Analysis, and Outlook” notes that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation believes a fishing license fee increase will occur sometime in the next five years. p. 9
  • Brown and Connelly note that “the overall increase and subsequent decline in (fishing) license sales in Great Lakes counties in the 1980s and 90s appears to be due primarily to nonresident license sales.” A gradual decline in the number of fishing licenses sold will occur as the population ages. p. 10, 18
  • In 1990, the proportion of non-resident fishing licenses sold was highest in Orleans (71%) and Oswego (70%) counties. p. 10
  • Recreational fishing expenditures by anglers living outside the county fished in were highest in Oswego and Jefferson counties. The Western Basin counties – Niagara, Orleans and Monroe – attract a more local clientele. p.15
  • Boaters traveling from outside the Lake Ontario region to Lake Ontario spent an estimated $38 million in 2003 and supported an estimated 760 jobs in local communities. p. 18

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