LANSING — The economic impact that Michigan receives from fishing ranks the state seventh nationwide in that category, according to a recent State Environmental Leadership Program (SELP) report.
But SELP warns, through the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), that if something isn’t done soon about mercury pollution in the state’s waterways Michigan could lose $280 million of that annual impact and put at risk many of the 9,731 jobs that depend on fishing.
“These numbers simply underscore how critical sportfishing is to Michigan’s economy,” said Keith Reopelle, SELP coordinator. “The answer to the mercury problem is clearly not to fish less, but to reduce mercury emissions at the source.”
“The federal government’s failure to take needed steps to curb lake-polluting mercury emissions could pose a long-term threat to fishing-related tourism revenues that are key to the economic health of our state,” said Vicki Levengood, MEC spokeswoman.
SELP said that fishing adds $1.1 billion to various coffers across the state each year. About half of those dollars go to retail sales, which account for $585 million, while $283 million covers the salaries and wages of those employed in related industries.
Another $90 million or so goes to state and federal taxes.
Levengood said she wasn’t sure how much of that revenue would be lost if the release of mercury wasn’t reduced. But SELP estimated that just a 25 percent drop in fishing purchases and activity could cost $280 million in revenue each year.
Reopelle said the newest regulations proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) don’t comply with the Clean Air Act and put the economic interests of utilities ahead of the state. He feels the EPA must require that mercury emissions be reduced by the maximum allowable amount if sportfishing in Michigan is to thrive and grow.
“That can happen,” said Reopelle, “but it will require those who care about fishing in Michigan to speak up and be heard.”
According to the MEC, the EPA proposal requires that coal-burning power plants reduce mercury emissions by 70 percent by 2018. But Levengood said the proposal lets utilities buy out of the reduction plan and that the Clean Air Act mandates a 90-percent reduction by 2008 without a buy-out provision.
Michigan residents have been told to limit their consumption of fish due to mercury contamination.
“People who are concerned about fishing and our way of life in Michigan need to urge Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency to crack down on mercury pollution,” said Levengood, “and not allow rules that would permit mercury pollution to get worse.”