Michigan’s charter fishery saw modest gains in 2011

Charter fishing trips in Michigan waters increased for the second year in a row. Although effort and economic impacts are still below long-term averages, the upward trend is encouraging.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently released charter fishing catch and effort data from the 2011 season. For the second consecutive year, the number of charter fishing trips increased.

Michigan charter captains have been required to report their catch and effort to the MDNR since 1990. This has been helpful to fisheries managers tracking the health of fish populations, and to economists interested in demonstrating the impacts of fishing to coastal communities.

In 2009, charter effort reached its lowest point since reporting began in 1990 with 12,578 fishing trips recorded in Michigan waters. The 2010 season saw an increase in effort to 13,481 trips; 14,144 trips were taken during the 2011 season.

Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University completed a study of charter fishing economic impacts in 2009. Although this was a low point for both fishing effort and economic impacts, the benefits to coastal communities were still substantial. Over 343,000 employment hours and $14.8 million in economic output resulted from charter-induced tourism in 2009.  

Using the economic models developed in 2009, an estimate of charter fishing impacts in 2011 was produced. Over 386,000 employment hours and $16.9 million (in 2009 U.S. dollars) in economic output were generated by Michigan’s charter fishing industry in 2011. While this is still below long-term averages of 465,000 employment hours and $19.8 million in output, the upward trend is encouraging.

Lake Michigan accounted for most of the increase in charter fishing effort last year, adding 630 trips in 2011. Charter boats on Lake St. Clair also added over a hundred trips in 2011, while Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Superior changed little. 

Catch rates rose on Lake St. Clair for walleye, smallmouth bass, and muskellunge. Anglers on the average charter trip caught six muskies from Lakes St. Clair in 2011, which is especially impressive given the elusive nature of this “fish of a thousand casts.” Harvest rates on Lake Huron were up slightly for walleye, steelhead, and Chinook salmon, but down for lake trout. On Lake Michigan, harvest rates were up for all salmon and trout species except Chinook salmon. Chinooks accounted for 75% of the charter catch in 2007. Many anglers, as well as fisheries managers who attempt to maintain a variety of predatory gamefish in the lake, welcome this increased diversity. Harvest rates remained impressive for Lake Michigan in 2011. The average trip produced just shy of nine salmon and trout with five of these being Chinook salmon.

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