Hooked: 12 million days spent fishing in the Delta, new UC Berkeley report finds

By Kathleen Scalise, Public Affairs

BERKELEY-- More than 40 percent of people who fish for recreation in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta claim they're cutting back on the sport, but collectively they still spend some 12 million days and $400 million dollars each year trying to land the perfect catch, according to a new University of California, Berkeley, report.

And, too bad for Old Sacramento and its legendary past, but according to the report, 77 percent of fishers said they rarely dock to visit historic or cultural sites. The report revealed the typical Delta fisher prefers boating, viewing wildlife and enjoying the scenery.

The study, "The Economic Impact of Recreational Boating and Fishing in the Delta," was commissioned by state organizations to assess the economic impact of the Delta, a popular vacation destination. The first such study on the Delta's 700 miles of waterways, it recently was completed by UC Berkeley economist George Goldman, a cooperative extension economist with the campus's Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

Goldman's study is based on data that separated into two groups people who fish and boat in the Delta. Data on "boaters" came from a survey of 10,000 registered boat owners in California. Their reasons for being out on the water ranged from cruising, swimming and water skiing to fishing and even hunting. Data on "fishers," who often use more modest vessels or fish from the shore, came from questioning licensed anglers in the state.

While boaters often are perceived to be bigger spenders than fishers, said Goldman, there's hardly a 50-cent different between what the two groups shell out for a single Delta excursion. Both spend about $235 per expedition for an average group of three.

"Boaters are spending almost a half billion dollars and fishers about a third of a billion," said Goldman, who admitted his surprise at the data. "That's a lot of money."

Among the findings in the original survey data ( were statistics revealing a change in how Delta fishers spend their time. Survey respondents said they were cutting back on fishing, swimming, board sailing and hunting. Hunting showed the greatest decrease, with 51 percent of the fishers saying they were spending slightly or significantly less time hunting. Forty-two percent claimed to be spending less total time fishing. Two activities - one unrelated to either fishing or boats - showed a slight increase: walking for pleasure and sightseeing.

As for visiting cultural and historic sites, both boaters and fishers placed it dead last on the list of top 10 activities, behind even nature photography, RV camping and attending special events.

Goldman also found recreational fishing and boating generate about 8,000 jobs in the Delta, keeping afloat bait shops and marinas, hotels and restaurants.

Interestingly, in Goldman's top 10 breakdown by county of where fishers and boaters come from, Contra Costa was number one on the boating list but didn't make the fishing list. Sacramento, San Joaquin, Alameda and Santa Clara counties ranked first through fourth on the fishing list, while Contra Costa, Sacramento, Alameda and Santa Clara held the top four spots in the boating category.

Goldman's analysis is based on data from the "Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Recreation Survey" prepared by the California State Department of Parks and Recreation.

Goldman's co-authors on the report are UC Berkeley post-doctoral researcher Bruce McWilliams, UC Cooperative Extension statistician Vijay Pradhan and Assistant Professor Cheryl Brown of Southeast Missouri State University.

The Delta Protection Commission and the State Department of Boating and Waterways supported the study to learn more about how important recreation is in the overall economics of the area.

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