“Florida tourism” conjures images of theme parks, resort hotels, state parks and the finest beaches the world has to offer. Sailfish, marlins and mackerel don’t immediately come to mind, but recreational fishing is an important part of the tourism industry in Florida, too. Florida is uniquely positioned to attract visitors to the state for recreational fishing, as our natural fresh and salt waterways are truly world-famous. Each year, millions of Americans and international visitors come to Florida to spend time fishing on our waterways.
Florida leads the nation in total angler expenditures, where nearly $5 billion was spent just last year. According to a recent report by the Florida TaxWatch Center for Competitive Florida, Florida: The Fishing Capital of the World, more than 80,200 jobs result from the state’s recreational fishing industry.
More than half of the money that enters Florida’s economy from the fishing industry is spent on trip-related expenses, such as food, lodging and transportation, which benefit the traditional tourism industry. This considerable economic impact does not include the commercial fishing industry, which provides its own tremendous value to Florida’s economy, and supports thousands of Florida jobs.
The demand for quality fishing already exists, and Florida should make the most of it. Did you know that approximately 46 million Americans fish, which is more than those who play golf and tennis combined? There are many opportunities for tourism expansion in Florida, but recreational fishing is one that continues to steadily grow. The number of people fishing in the Sunshine State grew by 24 percent, from 2006-2011.
In response to this growth, Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission recently added four additional Florida license-free fishing days through 2013: Oct. 12, Nov. 29-30, and Dec. 28. License-free fishing days encourage visitors and residents alike to participate in this multi-billion industry. From now on, Florida will host eight license-free fishing days each year.
While Florida leaders have already recognized the importance of state waterways for global competitiveness by putting substantial investments into our seaports, they must also keep in mind the role that our waterways have in positioning Florida to compete in the global tourism sector through recreational and competitive fishing.
Already the nationwide leader in recreational fishing, prioritizing the investment and growth of the fishing industry would maximize potential tourism revenues and help sustain and strengthen Florida as the global destination for anglers who want to experience the world’s premier competitive fishing. There are hundreds of competitive fishing events held around the U.S. and the globe that could likely be readily relocated to Florida waters, bringing even more visitors to the Sunshine State each year.
Florida’s water resources present incredible economic opportunities for the state, but Florida leaders must consider how these resources can be used to maximize their impact. Expansions of Florida’s recreational fishing industry is a promising opportunity to diversify the use of Florida’s water resources and continue to grow and diversify Florida’s economy.
Dominic M. Calabro is President and Chief Executive Officer of Florida TaxWatch, a statewide, nonprofit, nonpartisan government watchdog and research institute for taxpayers.