I recently ran into Bill Hilts at a social event and we started speaking about the state of the recreational fishing industry in New York. I have known Bill for several years- mostly through conference calls- and I know he is one of the most well regarded professionals among his peers. I asked him if he would answer some questions for my blog in between getting ready for his busy season, attending trade shows, and planning his upcoming wedding! Lucky for us, he made the time to answer my questions with indepth answers and statistics that helped me to realize how important fishing is for the tourism industry in New York. Thanks Bill!
Can you tell me a bit about your background and how you came to represent the Niagara region and fishing?
I guess things go all the way back to my childhood when I was brought up with a fishing and outdoors background. My father grew up in the same type of environment and was an outdoor writer – still is – and it resulted in some great outdoor adventures that allowed up to travel and fish across the country. The Adirondacks was a regular stop each summer, too, and Lewey Lake is a fond memory. As I grew older and tried to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up, my writing seemed to guide my path. After graduating from college, I found myself working for a national newspaper out of Buffalo called Gun Week and it wasn’t long before I was writing a weekly column for the Niagara Gazette daily newspaper … back in 1980. Because of my writing and communications skills, I was able to land a job with Niagara County as their Sportfishing Promotion Coordinator in 1986 – a job I continue to perform – and the Outdoor Sports Specialist for Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation. I’ve assisted in several regional efforts, as well as statewide efforts, to promote the outdoor resources that we are blessed with in the Empire State. I am the current president of the Lake Ontario Sportfishing Promotion Council (I missed a meeting and when I returned I was elected), made up of the seven counties along Lake Ontario. It’s primarily a marketing arm that allows us to get a bigger bang for our bucks in marking Lake Ontario as a destination. I’ve been active with state, regional and national writing groups, serving on the board of directors for all three at some point in time. I’m currently vice president with the Assn. of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers and on the Board with the Outdoor Writers Assn. of America. I also work closely with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.
Can you give me an idea how big the recreational fishing industry is in NY?
The recreational fishing industry in New York is big business, for sure. According to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation from 2006, Fishing and Hunting expenditures in New York were nearly $2 billion annually. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation conducted an angler survey in 2007 in conjunction with Cornell University’s Department of Natural Resources and their findings showed that between $500 and $600 million is spent by resident and nonresident anglers in the state annually. While nearly 20,000 anglers were surveyed, I’d have to say that the number is conservative. The largest body of water in the state is Lake Ontario, with anglers fishing 1.3 million days on those waters. And New York has some of the finest fishing in the country, if not the world. With 7,500 lakes and 50,000 miles of streams and rivers, there are plenty of freshwater opportunities. Throw in the salt water options and you can see that we are blessed with some outstanding outdoor opportunities. Niagara County is in the second year of an economic survey commissioned by the county’s Fisheries Development Board through Niagara University and the early results peg the county as having a $28 million annual impact. Huge!
Where do the fishermen and women come from – domestically and internationally?
Fishermen and women come from all over the world. The Internet is big for getting the word out about what we have to offer now. I just returned from a trade show in England, attending “The Big One” in Farnborough, promoting fishing in Lake Ontario and New York through out Lake Ontario Sportfishing Promotion Council. They purchased the booth space and we had two representatives promoting the resources. The United Kingdom has something like 3 or 4 million anglers with a heavy focus on carp and we thought we might be able to attract some anglers to New York. Actually, there are some businesses along the St.Lawrence River that attract a good number of UK anglers for their carp fishing.
Are there any state regulations that are helping or hurting recreational fishing?
The new license fee increase is going to have a negative effect on the nonresident fishermen coming into New York. This new increase went into effect last October 1 and many anglers coming into the state after that date were blindsided by the increase. They made it known that they weren’t happy and many were not going to be returning. The increase was significant for out of staters. There is also some concern on what’s happening on the national level regarding President Obama’s Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force that also came as a bit of a surprise. The Great Lakes was lumped into this, which will create a management policy into the future – with little or no input from the recreational fishing industry. In addition, there are always concerns on invasive species that could have a huge impact on the future of our resources, like the current controversy involving Asian Carp entering the Great Lakes.
Any other info you would like to share?
Where do you start. I could talk volumes on fishing and its effect on the state’s tourism industry. The fact that there is very little communication between I Love NY and DEC is a disappointment. Tourism on a state level needs to realize that fishing is an important tool for tourism. Some counties need to focus on fishing because its all they have. You would never know that we have world class fishing by viewing the state’s tourism information. There needs to be more of a focus to help get the word out about what we have. We also have to do a better job within the state boundaries to encourage the next generation to get involved. More education, kids fishing events, outreach to minorities, that sort of thing. We have a long way to go to ensure a vibrant future. There isn’t a better family activity than fishing and its relatively inexpensive to start out.