Hunting, fishing boost Michigan economy

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By Kyle Campbell
Fishing Lake St. Clair

Fishing brings out-of-state tourists into Michigan.  Photo: Lindsey Jene Scalera

Despite drought conditions, low water levels and a rash of disease in the white-tailed deer population, fishing and hunting remained a boon to the Michigan economy in 2012.

With more than 1.19 million fishing licenses and more than 2.39 million hunting licenses purchased from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) between last March 1 and Jan. 17, 2013, the state surpassed its total revenue from the previous year by more than $375,000.

The license sale year runs until the end of February, but Denise Gruben, manager of licensing and reservations for the DNR, said most sales occur before the end of the calendar year.

Despite the increase, Sharon Schafer, the head of the DNR’s Budget and Support Services Division, said the state still lags about $400,000 behind projections for the fiscal year, which began last Oct. 1.

Schafer said she is not surprised revenue is lower because of a bout of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, a lethal disease spread by insect bites through deer herds in at least 30 counties.

“There were large die-offs in Ionia and Clinton counties and it affected a lot of areas throughout the state,” she said. “The herd will recover. Those areas were overpopulated.”

So far, license revenues are more than $51 million, on par with the past several years. About $3.5 million goes for general state purposes, Schafer said.

More than 90 percent of the funds, however, remains with DNR, Schafer said, with the majority going toward the legal department, fisheries and wildlife, and the marketing and outreach division, which handles much of the sales.

“That’s about 20-25 percent of our budget, so that’s a big part,” Schafer said.

The economic impact of hunting and fishing industries is not limited to license fees.

In 2011, Michigan saw an estimated $2.36 billion in hunting-related retail sales and $2.46 billion in fishing-related sales, according to the National Shooting Sport Foundation and the American Sportfishing Association.

In late September, Pure Michigan began a three-month, $125,000 digital advertisement campaign to entice outdoor sport enthusiasts from nearby states such as Ohio and Indiana. It promotes Michigan hunting and fishing through online videos and ads on hunting and fishing websites.

The impact of these outdoor sports also affects other tourism-related industries, benefiting northern parts of the state.

For example, with 17 hotels in Cadillac and with close to two dozen outlying hotels and motels in the surrounding area, the city benefits greatly from the tourism generated by hunting and fishing, Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau Executive Director Joy VanDrie said.

Eight campgrounds, two lakes and the adjacent Huron-Manistee National Forest add to the draw, VanDrie said, furthering the prominence of hunting and fishing in the area.

“It’s quite important,” she said of outdoor sports. “It supports not only the hotels – the tax base – but the restaurants and the bait-and-tackle shops. We have a lot of guides in the area. Everything from bear tracking to ice fishing, we have seasons year round.”

One beneficiary of 2012’s hunting and fishing seasons was Steve Knaisel, owner of Pilgrim’s Village Resort in Cadillac,

A new app from Michigan's DNR will make it easier for hunters to find this guy. Photo: recubeJim (Flickr)

Hunting-related retail sales surpassed $2 billion in 2012. Photo: recubeJim (Flickr)

which consists of 16 cottages, seven motel rooms and a bait-and-tackle shop on the eastern shore of Lake Mitchell.

Between a spike in fishing during the summer, a relatively slow deer hunting season in the fall and an early ice fishing season this winter, Knaisel described his business in 2012 as “an absolute zoo.

“There’s no way to measure how important they are to us,” he said of hunting and fishing.

Knaisel said the economic impact was felt beyond the confines of his property and throughout the community.

“Somebody comes to my resort to stay, they’re more than likely going to go out to a restaurant, they’re going to spend money on gas, they might go shopping downtown – maybe they forgot to bring something,” he said.

“My cottages have cooking so they might go to a grocery store to pick up food. It is not only my business that’s benefitting, it’s everyone around me,” he said

Beyond a little heat exhaustion for some patrons, Knaisel said the summer drought had little adverse impact on his business. The shallower water did, however, mean more seaweed, causing a lower interest in watersports.

Mark Tonello, a fisheries biologist for the DNR in Cadillac, said an increase in weed growth is common in areas with low water levels.

He said by the end of the summer, lakes Mitchell and Cadillac were “as low as you’ll ever see them.”

Many inland lakes, particularly along the state’s west coast, still are experiencing below-average water levels because of below-average levels in Lake Michigan, Tonello explained.

“We’re still in the midst of a drought. Lake Michigan levels are at or nearing the all-time low record set in 1965,” he said.

According to the Army Corp of Engineers, the average water level of lakes Michigan and Huron was 576.04 feet in mid-January, which sits about 2 feet below the long-term average and beneath the 1965 low mark of 576.1 feet.

20 thoughts on “Hunting, fishing boost Michigan economy

  1. Alewives have been in Lake Michigan for more than 60 years at levels much, much higher than today’s near-record lows. When alewives were at record levels, people were catching perch hand over fist in many areas of Green Bay and Lake Michigan. How many times can I say that? The salmon may indeed eat themselves out of alewives in time, if they keep increasing natural reproduction where they’re already established and states remove more dams in areas where dams are limiting fish movement. But why would anyone in their right mind intentionally try to get rid of the salmon-steelhead-trout sport fishery that lures anglers spring through fall on the lake and tributaries? Perch anglers don’t come from across the country to book charters and fill hotels, restaurants, bait and tackle shops, grocery stores, gas stations and gift shops. They never did even in the boom years. People love perch, yes. But they aren’t the glamor fish that pulls in people from across the country. They are a nice draw for ice anglers, and spring and fall the catches have been decent in some areas. Summer they’ve been tough as they spread out across the vast, deep, gin-clear, mussel-infested waters.

  2. We have too many invasive species. We do not need more invasive species. Intentionally increasing alewives does not help solve our invasive species problem, it increases it. Increasing/restoring native fish/predators reduces invasive impacts. Planning to keep the alewives as the dominant fish is a betrayal of the public trust beyond anything I can think of. Have A nice day:)

  3. Green Bay is covered with quaqqas, and zebras before that. Green Bay’s biggest perch boom of all-time was in the last 80s/early 90s, when mussels arrived. We were allowed a year-round season and 50-fish limit. It wasn’t that hard to limit out for a couple years, even through the ice. Now, tell me, if perch were so good at eating mussels, WHY did mussels boom during the time when Green Bay had its greatest perch abundance? And why, even now when we have some decent perch fishing, do we find anything but mussels in the bellies of the perch we clean? Researchers say a fully mature female mussel is capable of producing up to one million eggs per year. Even if perch eat some, they’d NEVER ever make a dent. Green Bay is perfect example. The bottom is carpeted end to end with mussels. Perch were there in big numbers when zebras first came in. Didn’t stop ’em. Even if perch were able to make a dent (they aren’t), I wouldn’t want to eat a species that grew up on mussels as the contaminant load would be out of this world.

  4. Well then we let the Perch clean out the mussels in the near shore and connecting waters where most of the food they steal is generated. I don’t like kool-aid either but it seems that’s all the DNR has to offer. Forgive me but I thought the idea was to save the great lakes not destroy them. And I told you about saying never.

  5. You’re in a dream world Tom. Quaggas carpet the lake bottom in depths no perch has ever been. You’ll NEVER get rid of them with predators; won’t even make a small dent. Let’s see, 500 trillion quaggas and counting, most at depths perch don’t even swim? You can do the math. Salmon guy? Yes, I love salmon, steelhead and brown and brook trout, but also target and catch perch, walleyes, bass, whitefish, pike, muskies and more. We have multi-species action that lures anglers from across the country, as well as from Canada and overseas. Is it perfect? No, but it’s the best freshwater fishery in the world. Had perch, smelt and whitefish for supper last night, smelt from trawlers and perch and whitefish from hook and line on Green Bay earlier this week. Delicious! p.s. I don’t like Kool-Aid.

  6. Enough Scoop. You either drank way to much salmon koolaid or you helped write the script. Alewives are an invasive species period. I’m sorry if you salmon guys can’t be incovenienced by having to merely switch to another fish to catch.Everyone else fishes for leftovers so you can limit out and hit the barn in 2 hours right? Your chinook or nothin mentality will be the death of the great lakes. We’re getting our butts kicked by a 1/2 inch clam that is the very worst at avoiding predators, which we have, but they also eat alewives and too many predators ain’t allowed. Right Scoopy?

  7. Tom, put your thinking cap on. Check a graph of estimated alewife populations from the 60s to today. Check a graph of estimated yellow perch abundance from the 60s to today. Then match those up with discovery of zebra mussels, and quaggas. You will notice ups and downs of perch populations that rarely match ups and downs of alewives. You will see perch populations nosedive not long after mussels took over.

    Here’s a good scientific research excerpt to digest: “Lake Michigan is a dynamic ecosystem that is changing rapidly due to the introduction of
    exotic species. Quagga and zebra mussels have shifted most of the productivity to the bottom of the lake leaving few nutrients for the production of plankton and zooplankton. This shift in productivity has contributed to reduced and sporadic prey fish production …”

    Several years ago quaqqas were estimated to comprise 88 percent of the biomass in the lake; most recent trawl estimate was 72 percent mussels and 28 percent prey fish.

    An excerpt from a Detroit Free Press story in 2011: Gary Fahnenstiel, also a scientist with NOAA, calls quaggas the greatest disruption to ever hit the lakes. “Based on their effects, I’d argue quaggas are a greater perturbation than alewives or sea lamprey,” two other major invasives, he said.

  8. Well Scoop, here’s the scoop. The “it’s the zebra museels’ thing doesn’t hold water. The alewife connection to recruitment and zooplankton etc.. has been well documented for many years prior to zebra mussels. I have a 1966 paper from Tanner hisself, they knew then what alewives do, always knew. Then the Huron example among others. It is only disputed by salmon guys. You see scoop baby the real problem is we have too many parasites in the system, most of them have 2 legs.

  9. “Chinook salmon will likely continue to be the most abundantly stocked salmonine species in Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Ontario because they are inexpensive to rear, feed heavily on alewife, and are highly valued by recreational fishers.

    Most introduced salmonines are now reproducing successfully in portions of the basin, and they are considered naturalized components of the Great Lakes ecosystem. Therefore, the question is no longer whether non-native salmonines should be introduced, but rather how to determine the appropriate abundance of salmonine species in the lakes.”

    Tom, you say the timing wasn’t larval perch, because that fits your agenda. It was done at the time there were larval perch present – that’s why they were checking. As for you implying alewives move in to feast on larval walleye and perch, the fact is the alewives move in to spawn. Alewives are at historic lows, and have been for nearly a decade now. Perch, though available and though producing some very good hatches in some areas, aren’t anywhere close to historic highs because of the changed ecosystem. Why can’t you see that the perch decline coincides with the invasion of zebras and quaggas, not alewives?

  10. For your viewing pleasure please find : (Chapter 9 Ecological Factors Affecting the Sustainability of Chinook and Coho salmon populations in the Great Lakes especially Lake Michigan) Hansen, Holly 2002. This was addressed 11 years ago, by all concerned. However they didn’t listen to thier own counsel or the facts.

  11. The MDNR admits alewives eat larval perch and others, everywhere else alewives eat larval fish and are considered an invasive species, but not in Lake Michigan? The timing of the study you refer to the dominant food in the water was not larval perch. Alewives are at historic lows, so where’s the perch you say? You just told everyone they’re catching 50? The 2005 Perch spawn biggest every recorded, coincides with the alewife drop. Prior to that 3 perch contests per year 2 Muskegon one white lake, most people skunked,for 20 years, I was there. All native fish coming back in Huron/Saginaw sans alewives, which the MDNR admits was the whole problem. But alewives have no effect here, you say? Regardless of how spread or low alewives are, they fill the drowned river mouths Perch walleye spawning grounds/nursery right when perch or walleyes hatch, trapped with millions of alewives.I shot video of wave after wave of alewives pouring into Muskegon lake 2010. Check thier stomachs then. Alewives changed the zooplankton drastically of the entire system, but that’s ok? In Vermont it’s illegal to transport alewives dead or alive, but here the MDNR wants them as the dominant fish? Salmon are the iron pyrite of the fish world. Perch are the real deal, and don’t require a special diet to survive. Thus are not a burden to the common good and the ecosystem. We just want to plant a few Perch, but you guys are scared to death, interesting ain’t it.

  12. Found it, and Tom, while I admire your passion for perch, you’re missing the boat. The lake’s ecosystem is not the same one you remember from “the good old days” of perch. You also don’t appear willing to concede that perch populations were booming right along with alewives decades ago, yet today alewives are at historic lows and perch haven’t made the dramatic comeback you’d like to see.

  13. The perch decline began in the early 90s, long after salmon arrived. There were a lot more alewives around decades ago and a lot more perch, too. The perch decline coincided with the zebra mussel invasion. Those mussels, and the bigger quaggas that have come since, feasted on diporea, the same food that used to available in big quantities for perch.

    Tom says there are no perch. Here is an online report last November of 50-fish limits:

    As for alewives eating perch, no doubt they and many other species may eat larval perch, but here’s a quote from

    “Other Great Lakes studies have shown that adult alewives will prey on yellow perch larvae, but no studies have quantified that possibility on Lake Michigan. Back in 1997, alewives were netted for six nights on Lake Michigan for 30 minutes after sundown. The fish were measured and preserved, and the stomach contents from 340 fish were analyzed. No larval perch were found and tests showed that 95 percent of the alewives’ diet consists of copepods, a large group of freshwater crustaceans.”

    It should be noted that DNR has in the past decade found some terrific perch year classes in Green Bay, and some fair ones in southern Lake Michigan where there’s terrific spring fishing for jumbo perch off northern Illinois. But we’re in a forever-changed ecosystem. Some research shows southern lake fry are being carried by currents to the lower east shore where there’s little to eat.

    Salmon, steelhead, trout, walleyes, muskies, smallmouth bass, panfish and more provide the action. I love perch, too, and catch them in Green Bay where they’re still fairly plentiful.

    Michigan’s west coast is far from the “nothing to catch” fishery Tom tries to portray. Anglers who succeed adapt and fish what’s hot that particular month, or season. Rivers, harbors, lakes, bays – whatever it takes. Tens of thousands of anglers do so every year, and ice fishing is luring plenty outside again this winter. Anyone who doesn’t believe this need only check some of the more active Michigan fishing and sportsmen sites online. Here’s one: And another:

    Enjoy the outdoors!

  14. As you wish Mr Creagh. I had hoped you would figure what’s what, and fix things as your statements suggested. You come across very positive, yet nothing will change. Ignoring the Asian Carp is a very bad plan, what you think of me matters little, I tried to help. That I chose not to help save the alewives, bothers your staff, I don’t care. I’m aware that the DNR monitors this site and many others, also don’t care. Ignoring the facts also very bad plan, but it is your plan, not mine.

  15. Hi Slow not sure what you mean there, but the DNR has pitted native fisherman against salmon fisherman for years, they sit back and watch. I see saginaw Bay boat launches full, Detroit river Walleye run, launches packed, Erie most popular no salmon. West coast launches no waiting. For 20 years no ice fishing on Muskegon lake. alewives down 2005 good perch spawn, 2008 hit size lake packed. Calls em like I sees em.
    Scoop, the DNR has been complaining of license sales drop. Even now if license sales interest don’t increase, more cuts no stocking etc…
    For years they blamed video games now with the Family friendly plan it’s bathrooms. If there were bathrooms and better access people will go fishing they say. I know many places good access, bathrooms but the fishing/catching sucks and they sit empty or mostly unused. The piers in Lake Michigan for example had thousand of people per day fishing,catching Perch. Now they don’t not catching. We still have the piers, they got bathrooms, we only need to add fish. The Perch only need help surviving the spawn, they’ll eat gobies zebras etc… Bio-conversion to a more desirable species the DNR calls it. People go fishing to catch fish, they don’t take pictures of how nice the bathrooms were, but didn’t catch any fish. The DNR wants us to tell our good spots for them to post. If you have a good spot you don’t tell your mother even with 3 pieces of ID! Restore the native fishery fix many problems.

  16. Fishing is alive and well in Michigan despite what the naysayers would tell you. There are far more fishermen than hunters in Michigan. The total license sales is deceiving, and is not representative of total hunters. There are fewer than a million who hunt in Michigan. There are likely two million or more anglers, because youths age 16 and under don’t need to buy licenses to fish. Kids of all ages have to purchase hunting licenses. Huge industries. One only has to check frozen bays, harbors, rivers, lakes, ponds and flowages on a decent winter day to see ice fishing is alive and well. Depending on the area, the steelhead, browns and some leftover cohos are in rivers and harbors, while walleyes, whitefish and perch lure anglers in others. Inland there’s a smorgasbord of panfish and some pike, walleyes, bass, trout and other species. Get off the couch or computer and into a bait and tackle shop and join the hundreds of thousands having fun and beating cabin fever this winter!

  17. Tom, you take a non issue and then with all the reasearch of…. a single person (and that person being you) you want to make an east vs west issue… wow… awesome job.

  18. $2.46 billion in fishing related sales. Anyone care to break that down as to which fishing draws the most interest? I see more interest on the east side and south east than the west coast, much more.

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