The economics of fishing in Hawai`i
Sportfishing vs Longliners - who weigh$ in?

by Mike House
Sportfish Hawaii

Honolulu Hawai`i, (April 9, 1999) -- So much has been discussed about the health and future of our fishery in Hawai`i from a scientific standpoint that it appears one of the most fundamental aspects of fishing has been completely overlooked: economics. More specifically, we are not looking at the value of our fishery from a tourism standpoint, and it's as though when we talk about fishing, we do not accommodate our visitors wishes in our decisions.

Although our visitors come to Hawai`i for many reasons, the lure of catching a big Marlin is certainly one of the thoughts that cross people's minds when planning their trips here. After all, Hawai`i is the most geographically remote group of islands in the world and is completely surrounded by the very environment in which billfish naturally inhabit.

But for some strange reason our charter fleets remain in a state of flux, with some operators bordering on the brink of bankruptcy from lack of business. Furthermore, our boating industry remains lackluster, limping along and hanging on to life like a dying whale. While there is no doubt that most businesses will succeed or fail from their management, it's the overall health of the industry that we should concern ourselves with.

There are roughly a hundred and twenty five (125) active fishing charter boats across the state which average about fifteen trips per month. With the average charter price at $500.00 a day, that's just under a million dollars a month for the industry, or $12 million a year before considering fishing tournaments and other key factors. Tack on another $400.00 per person per fishing day for each person's prorated share of air, car and hotel (which assumes they'll do other things while visiting), and before considering a visitor's next meal, another $31 million has been spent directly on chartered deep sea fishing in Hawai`i every year. That's a minimum of $43 million in tourism revenues directly attributed to the pursuit of billfish in Hawai`i annually.

In addition to our visitors, there are about 12,000 boats registered in Hawai`i that are capable of fishing. Assuming one third of them go fishing regularly (i.e. twenty trips a year), 4,000 boats, or a total of 80,000 days are spent on the water per year. Assuming the average owner who uses his boat regularly spends a mere $6,000 a year on insurance, docking, fuel, food, tackle, bait, and maintenance, that's another $24 million a year spent on boat (as opposed to shore) fishing, excluding the actual cost of acquiring the boat.

Based on these simple computations, it doesn't take a whole lot of effort to figure out that rod and reel anglers spend a lot of money in pursuit of a big game fish. We're at almost $70 million spent by local and visitor anglers annually on direct expenses related to offshore fishing, and we haven't begun to consider the cost of local fishermen acquiring their boats (another complete industry in and of itself), the actual economic impact of the sportfishing industry, nor even the number of jobs generated by the sportfishing industry.

Conversely, there are about 120 active longline boats permitted in the Hawaiian Exclusive Economic Zone, and another 40 or so permits were recently issued. While we won't know the revised billfish harvest numbers which will reflect new permits for a few more years, up to this point an average 23,000 to 25,000 Marlin pieces (Blues and Stripes) are taken by longline boats each year; roughly 2 million pounds, according to the Division of Aquatic Resources. At $8.00 a pound, which is a generous final consumer price, that's $16 million of revenues a year generated by the longline boats on the sale of billfish.

$70 million a year of first-dollar spending versus $16 million on final consumer cost. That's quite a difference. An economist could compute the real benefit of sportfishing to Hawai`i both now and if the fishing was as good as it should be, and if they did, our lawmakers will eventually come to realize just how much revenue this state is missing out on by evaluating the health of our fishery from only a scientific standpoint.

Over 6 million tourists a year, 18,000 a day, or 540,000 a month, give or take a few, arrive in the Islands of Hawai`i. On those 125 charter boats operating fifteen days a month and averaging four passengers per trip, 7,500 anglers a month, or 90,000 a year, are going fishing. That's less than 1.5% of all visitors who come to Hawai`i spending time and money on a charter boat.

And 125 boat owners wondering if they're going to make it.

It's been said that 90% of the fish are caught by 10% of the fishermen and arguments abound both for and against the way our fishery is managed, but we really cannot make an accurate scientific assessment of the overall health of the fishery from the data we currently have. But forget that for now. Hawai`i is a tourism state in the tourism business. What we can assess with regard to our fishery is visitor perception and the lost revenues from the thousands of anglers from around the country and the world who will not bring their visitor dollars to Hawai`i to go fishing. They won't fish here because of their perceptions regarding the management of our fisheries, and the lost revenues and negative publicity are hurting Hawai`i.

Fishing is one of the few industries where financial exploitation, appropriately directed, will actually have a positive effect on the environment. Imagine a fishery managed well enough to a point where everyone could reasonably expect to catch a billfish (big or small) almost every time out. It wouldn t take long before Hawaii's percentage of visitors going fishing made 2%, then 3%, or even 5%, with local anglers spending more time on the water too. At that point, when we'd conceivably have 300 charter boats each running 25 days a month and driving a half billion dollar sportfishing industry, it might just be enough of a boost for the state to call ourselves officially out of recession.

We're spending millions dollars a year attracting tourists to our beaches, golf courses, and fishing boats. Let's do everything we can to make sure the things people are promised in those ads are here when they arrive.

Let's manage our fisheries.

Mike House
Sportfish Hawaii
(808) 396-2607

Hele On

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