Economic report states value of sport fishing

Sport fishing in Washington provides more than triple the number of jobs and double the earnings of commercial fishing, says a new economic report presented to the state Fish and Wildlife Commission.

But commission members rushed to say the numbers in the document are not usable to compare sport and commercial fisheries almost before the words were out of the mouth of Tom Wegge of TCW Economics last week.

TCW Economics of Sacramento, under contract to the state, reported that sport fishing supports 12,850 jobs in Washington compared to 3,524 for commercial fishing and $376.1 million in earnings compared to $148 million for the commercials.

Gov. Chris Gregoire requested the economic analysis "to allow us to fully educate the public on the importance of fishing.''

The report cost $19,000. Wegge said some of the numbers in the report are comparable, while others are not.

"The personal income measures that were derived in the study are intended to be comparable between the two fisheries,'' Wegge said.

But the issue is that the economic contribution made by state residents to sport fishing is different than non-residents, he said.

"Non-residents come in and contribute to the tourism industry,'' Wegge said.

"Tourism is considered a basic industry. Commercial fishing is considered a basic industry. The recreation fishing by state residents is a support industry. It's not a basic industry.''

The trick is comparing the right things, he added.

"You have to take the state residents spending out of the equation because what they support is not considered a basic industry,'' Wegge said. "There are pieces of this -- the personal income, the jobs -- that could be considered comparable, but you have to recognize there are limitations.''

The commercial numbers only deal with catch from Washington waters, he said.

"It's part of a much bigger picture,'' Wegge said. "There are pieces that are comparable, but they have to be presented in the right framework.''

Chuck Perry, a commission member from Moses Lake, said he doubted the public or media will grasp the nuances.

"The potential for this is to be compared out of context because most people aren't going to read the long report, or the executive summary,'' Perry said. "They're going to look at those two figures and come unglued.''

Shirley Solomon, commission member from Skagit County, said the report "needs to be framed in a way that doesn't unreasonably represent the benefits of one over another.''

Craig Burley, a manager in the WDFW fish program, straddled the fence.

"The report was not an attempt to compare and contrast the two fisheries, but simply to report on the economics associated with our commercial fisheries, all species including shellfish and groundfish as well as salmon, in addition, looking at our recreational fishery,'' Burley told the commission. "Where we felt we started to get to apples-to-apples was when you look at things like personal income.''

Commission chairman Jerry Gutzwiler of Wenatchee also said the study is not to stir the long-standing feud between the two user groups.

"We're not trying to tee up a battle here between commercial and recreational fisheries,'' Gutzwiler said. "We're caught in the middle. What (the governor) is looking at is data to provide an educational background for the public at large what the value of these fisheries are to the state of Washington.''