Florida calls itself the Fishing Capital Of the World, and for good reason. The economic value of Florida’s recreational fisheries is more than any other state, and we believe that it’s more than just about any nation. The annual economic impact of Florida’s recreational fisheries is $9.3 billion, with saltwater recreational fisheries accounting for $7.6 billion. Yes, that’s right – Billion with a B. And that accounts for thousands upon thousands of jobs -from bait and tackle shops to boat dealers to boat makers to marinas, as well as restaurants, hotels…. You get the message.
But the fisheries, and the economy they support, don’t just magically support themselves. They need effective management. Let’s think of this in terms of theme parks, of which there are many in Florida. When you take your family to a theme park, you assume that part of the money you pay for tickets goes to pay workers at the park. These workers are tasked with a lot of things, among them making sure the rides are safe and the food won’t make you sick.
It’s no different for Florida’s fisheries. Just like your family’s well-being at the theme park depends on the rides being safe, Florida’s fisheries depend on the habitats being healthy. If the habitats – like seagrasses, mangroves, wetlands, oyster reefs – aren’t healthy, there won’t be enough for the gamefish to eat, or places for baby gamefish to grow up. In effect, the ride is no longer safe. Loss of healthy habitats due to things like water mismanagement causes the fisheries to do the same thing that would happen if the theme park didn’t maintain their rides- they crash.
So it’s astounding that Florida’s governor and many in the legislature don’t think that protecting the environment (aka habitats and water) is worthwhile. In fact, funding for restoration and resource management has been removed from the state budget repeatedly (if it ever makes it into the budget to begin with) because it doesn’t provide a “return on investment”. How is it that the saltwater recreational fishery, a sector of the economy worth $7.6 billion annually, isn’t worth the investment of responsible management? And when you start to include other aspects of Florida’s economy that depend on clean water and healthy estuaries, like real estate (http://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2016/02/16/when-waterways-are-polluted-property-values-decline-slrirl/), the return on investment is incredibly high.
The way we see it, fixing Florida’s long history of water mismanagement is an investment in the future. If the saltwater recreational fishery is worth $7.6 billion now, imagine what it could be worth if the water and habitats were healthy? And as long as the habitats and water are healthy, the fishery is sustainable–in other words, it will be worth a lot of money and jobs IN PERPETUITY as long as we take care of it. How much state money is being spent on sectors of Florida’s economy with less economic impact than the recreational fishery? Even if Florida spent $1 billion per year to fix our water and fisheries that would still be a damn good investment–$1 spent for every $7.60 in economic return. And that investment would only have to be short term–to get the situation fixed–with the economic return being consistent and long term, Seems pretty straightforward.
The irresponsible approach is to focus on short term profits at the expense of long term benefits, In essence, putting the debt on future generations. The responsible approach is to take the long term view and fix the leaky roof so that the house is still in good shape for future generations. And the longer we take to fix it, the more the fix is going to cost. So let’s make this a priority and leave a positive legacy.