Report: Keys flats fishing is big business

Fishermen who come to cast a line onto Florida Keys flats generated more than $427 million to the local and state economy in 2012, says a new study released this month.

“The Florida Keys are credited as the birthplace of flats fishing. Around the world, people know that,” said Aaron Adams, executive director of the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust that undertook the study.

The 23-page study, “Economic Impact of the Florida Keys Flats Fishery,” was presented May 15 to the Monroe County Commission, which contributed $25,000 toward the effort.

Information from the report will be included in proposals for Keys habitat-restoration projects for improving water quality in local canals or restoring seagrass flats.

The study doesn’t address offshore Atlantic fishing or fishing at the reef for such things as yellowtail snapper.

The report, authored by Gainesville recreational consultant Tony Fedler, shows that in terms of Keys tourism draws, “flats fishing is right up near the top of the list,” said Charlie Causey of Islamorada, a Bonefish and Tarpon Trust board member.

“The bottom line is that people come here to be on the water or in the water,” Causey said.

“That’s our big draw for tourism. A lot of places have warm weather but they don’t have our water,” Causey said. “And if we don’t have good water quality and a strong [fish] habitat, they’ll go somewhere else.”

Fedler said he was surprised to learn “the guiding and fishing industry down there has more economic impact than I thought. The dollar value of what they do is very significant for the size of the area.”

The report concludes, “Flats anglers spend nearly $2,000 more per year on their saltwater fishing than other saltwater anglers in Florida…. Fishing guides in the Florida Keys play an important role in the region’s fishing industry.

“The small number of guides average over 155 days of fishing per year with some guides spending nearly 300 days fishing annually. Their activity accounts for over 140,000 angler days of fishing and results in angler expenditures totaling $62 million. The overall economic impact of guided Keys Flats fishing is $107 million.”

The $427 million includes related expenditures like motels, restaurants and fishing gear, combined with statistically recognized multipliers for spending.

“When I see $250 million worth of airplanes on the tarmac at [Florida Keys] Marathon Airport, I know a lot of those folks come here because of the fishing and resources we have,” county Mayor George Neugent said.
“Resource protection is inextricably linked to the economy in the fabulous Florida Keys,” Neugent said.

Based on surveys with more than 150 Keys guides and “thousands” of anglers, Fedler concluded that the Keys flats attracted 115,781 anglers in 2012, who spent an average of 12 days on the water.

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