Fishing-related tourism holds strong in Ludington despite concern for salmon fishing

Catch rates have fallen in recent years, but new figures show that charter fishing is just as important as ever to local economies.

Anglers troll for salmon off Big Sable Point north of Ludington. Daniel O'Keefe | Michigan Sea Grant

Anglers troll for salmon off Big Sable Point north of Ludington. Daniel O'Keefe | Michigan Sea Grant

Fishing out of the Lake Michigan port of Ludington has seen its share of ups and downs in recent years, and by most accounts the 2014 season was a big down. Chinook salmon, a species preferred by many anglers, were harder to locate and less predictable than usual. The number of Chinooks returning to the Little Manistee Weir during the fall run was at an all-time low. The forage base of the lake appears to be shifting from Alewife (the preferred prey of Chinook salmon) to Round Goby (a species that Chinooks rarely eat).

The Michigan DNR collects charter fishing data from licensed Michigan captains each year. The numbers from the 2014 season are now in and the results are not nearly as gloomy as expected.

In fact, the numbers are downright encouraging. The number of charter fishing trips taken out of Ludington has not changed much at all over the past three years. In 2012, Ludington captains took 1,475 trips. In 2014, they took 1,471 trips.

The 2012 fishing season was great by most accounts, and the average charter fishing trip out of Ludington came back to the dock with 10.8 Chinook salmon. In 2014, Chinook salmon targeted harvest rate fell to 4.5 fish per trip. This is a big drop from 2012, but a bit of an increase from the 2013 targeted harvest rate of 4.1. To put this in context, Lake Huron charter effort bottomed out in 2008 with a targeted harvest rate of 1.4 Chinook salmon per trip.

What is encouraging about this? It means that the ups and downs of the past few years have not been as detrimental to coastal communities as one might fear. In Ludington, the “ups” have been phenomenal and the “downs” have been merely so-so in terms of quality fishing. Despite the ups and downs, customers are still booking trips.

For Ludington, this translates to $1.87 million in gross sales during the 2014 fishing season. Charter angler spending generated 39,109 employment hours and $830,736 in personal income last year, with hospitality industries and restaurants benefitting most.

These economic figures were generated using the Charter Fishing Economic Impact Calculator. The calculator was developed by Michigan Sea Grant, Michigan State University Extension, and Dr. Steven Miller of MSU’s Center for Economic Analysis, and Dr. Chi-Ok Oh of MSU’s Department of Community Sustainability. This tool is available for anyone to use free of charge on the Michigan Sea Grant website.

The tool uses economic multipliers based on specific regions and requires the user to input the number of charter trips. Based on the region and number of trips, the calculator returns economic impacts in 2009 U.S. dollars, which can then be adjusted for inflation.

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