Fishy Hit: Threatened fishery generates $5.4M/year to Keweenaw economy

Daily Mining Gazette file photo Anglers hold up lake trout at the Baraga Lake Trout Festival. The Buffalo Reef and Keweenaw Bay fisheries contribute about $5.4 million annually to the local economy, a recent analysis found — and that is before factoring in events such as fishing tournaments.

LAKE LINDEN — The Buffalo Reef and Keweenaw Bay fishery contributes more than $5.4 million in value annually, according to a recent economic analysis.

An earlier analysis put the figure at about $1.7 million but was narrower in scope, Jeff Ratcliffe, director of the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance, said at a public forum on the Buffalo Reef last week.

“This tried to look at the overall value of the fishery, as well as some of the additional things,” he said.

The analysis comes amid efforts to find solutions for the migration of stamp sands from Gay to Buffalo Reef and Grand Traverse (aka Big Traverse) Harbor.

“There’s value with this bay and with this fishery, and with this reef,” Ratcliffe said. “We’ve got to get the sand off the beach and away from the reef.”

The figures assume tribal fishers and non-tribal fishers will catch a combined 375,020 round pounds of whitefish and lake trout, 313,004 dressed pounds and 156,502 filet pounds.

The tribal figures use 30-year averages from the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), as well as mark and recapture data. That shows 80 percent of lake trout and whitefish stay within 50 miles of where they were spawned.

The 50-mile radius around Buffalo Reef has accounted for 37 percent of the lake trout and whitefish caught in Lake Superior waters ceded by the 1842 Treaty.

“They have the best record for the catches within the 1842 Treaty areas … they also have a lot of data they’ve collected over the years on the movement of fish and where the spawning fish go as they get older,” Ratcliffe said.

Non-tribal numbers used 2008-2017 averages from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for management units 90 miles around the reef.

Most of the fishery’s dollar value — about $3.8 million — comes from the sale price of those catches. The figures assume $429,764 in dockside whitefish round sales (based on $1.81 per pound) and $94,931 in dockside lake trout round sales (based on $0.69 a pound).

Those numbers are an average between the latest DNR data on commercial catches, the GLIFWC and interviews with local tribal fishers. The wholesale price for dressed ($4 a pound) is derived from the average of a range provided by tribal fishers. The retail price $12.95 per pound) is based on local retailers.

Labor value of fishers is estimated at $293,829, while their operating costs are put at $209,878. The labor costs, which come from GLIFWC, are based on the average cost of labor for gill and trap net boats, put at 56 percent of dockside sales. Operating costs are assumed to be 40 percent of dockside sales, based on GLIFWC and U.S. Department of Commerce data.

That total of $503,708 is given a 1.5 times multiplier to determine the effect of their money circulating in the community.

“They sell their fish, and they have to pay wages, and they have to pay for their costs,” Ratcliffe said. “All that stuff goes back into the local and regional economies.”

Recreational fishing accounts for another $165,543, while charter fishing is about $210,000. The recreational bumpers come from the DEQ’s 2008-16 averages from Keweenaw Bay. Charter fishing, based on anecdotal data, assumed 160 four-hour trips at $500, 40 day trips at $750 and an average community spend of $500 per trip.

The analysis does not account for things such as tournament fishing, the value of the Grand Traverse Harbor or fish consumed by households in the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Ratcliffe said.