March 26, 2013

Editorial: Valuable natural resource


---- — Lake Champlain has been described as an angler’s dream. That ethereal description translates to solid money, a literally green reason to protect this valuable natural resource.

Every year, top anglers from around the country come to this region several times a summer to participate in nationally ranked competitions. They bring their equipment and, sometimes, family members, and they stay at local hotels and campgrounds, eat at local restaurants and shop at local stores.

Last year, Lake Champlain was No. 5 in the list of 100 Best Bass Lakes, as designated by Bassmaster. Falcon Lake in Texas was No. 1 on the list, followed by Lake Okeechobee in Florida, Lake Guntersville in Alabama and Lake Erie.

Our lake was described this way: “Here, you can catch smallmouth until you are sick of reeling them in. There are simply scads of 2-pound fish to wade through before getting a 3- to 4-pound bite, although trophy smallies certainly live in the lake. However, the largemouth population has quietly grown into the bully breed of Champlain, winning most tournaments now. The option to fish shallow for healthy greenbacks or deep for willing bronzebacks make this 125-mile-long fishery a dream for versatile anglers.”

Pretty enticing endorsement for people with a passion for fishing. But fishing is something that people who have lived near Lake Champlain for many years could easily take for granted. We might not even think of it if we are listing reasons someone would want to visit our area.

It would be foolish to underestimate its economic impact. A study led by consultant Dr. Colin Read recently reported that professional fishing tournaments brought $2.7 million in direct spending to the region in 2012. Read concluded that for every $1 invested in hosting a fishing tournament, the region gains at least $95. He added that “over time, we may even discover the economic impact to be larger yet.”

More than 2,500 professional anglers are expected here this summer to compete for a total prize pool of $1.5 million. The tournaments will also bring reporters and camera crews from national media outlets, who will, in turn, bring Lake Champlain into millions of homes, prompting more tourism visits.

This year, one fewer professional fishing tournament is planned for Lake Champlain. Six were held there last year; five will take place between June 15 and Aug. 3 this year.

The environmental quality of the Lake Champlain is instrumental in it being chosen year after year as a host site for fishing tournaments. So it is important that the lake be protected from pollution, invasive species and any damaging tournament activities that result in too many fish deaths.

If people don’t, for some reason, care about the lake quality from an environmental perspective, there’s a whole other reason to get on board: our economy.