New fishing report offers 'invaluable'
information on lakes
By Mark Brooky
Grand Haven Tribune
The business of sportfishing on Lake Michigan is on the
upswing, so concludes a new report.
The data also shows it is a difficult way to make a living.
The report, called "Michigan's Great Lakes Charter
Fishing Industry 2002," was a joint effort of the
Michigan Sea Grant College and the Great Lakes Sea Grant
Network. The groups last studied the industry in 1994.
"The survey is a great asset to all charter boat
captains and the ports that they work out of," said
Michigan Charter Boat Association President Frank English.
"The information is invaluable."
Mark Veurink, captain of a Grand Haven-based charter
boat and president of the local Chinook Pier Sportfishing
Association, said most captains struggle financially and
have second businesses or jobs to get them by.
"It's not a lucrative lifestyle," he said.
"You're never going to see a charter captain retire
Veurink has been a licensed captain since 1985 and operates
Reel Action Charters, one of about 16 charter boats docked
at Grand Haven's Municipal Marina. During the off-season,
the Spring Lake Township man manufactures fishing lures.
The 2003 season on Lake Michigan was substantially off
from years past, Veurink said, and he believes the slump
of the general economy is the culprit. He estimates that
"walk-ons," individuals or small groups that
decide mostly on a whim to go sportfishing aboard a charter
boat, was down about 50 percent this year from 2002. In
addition, Veurink said a lot of corporations have trimmed
such outings from their budgets.
"I would say on the average that most of the guys
that do it for a living were down," he said, while
also anticipating a rebound next year.
Total charter boat fishing revenue from Michigan's Great
Lakes ports is estimated at $10.1 million in 2002, as
calculated by Michigan Sea Grant agent Chuck Pistis and
Ohio Sea Grant agent Frank Lichtkoppler, the report's
authors. That's up from an inflation-adjusted estimate
of $6.7 million in the 1994 report.
However, the survey found 468 captains in 2002, down
from 543 eight years ago.
"With almost 18 percent of the respondents planning
to quit the business in the next five years, a continuing
decline in the number of Michigan charter firms may be
expected," Pistis stated in the report.
Veurink said membership in the Chinook Pier Sportfishing
Association has been fairly steady over the past few years.
There are currently 16 members that dock at the city marina,
he said, and another 10 docked elsewhere in the area.
Members' boats range in size from 22 feet to 48 feet.
Nearly 60 percent of the captains responding to the survey
said they planned to increase the number of trips over
the next five years. Great Lakes boats made an average
of 59.2 fishing trips last year, up from an average of
46 on Lake Michigan in 1994.
August was the most-popular sportfishing month on Lake
Michigan, accounting for 36 percent of the 2002 trips.
That was followed by July (25 percent), June (15 percent),
September (11 percent), May (10 percent), April (2 percent)
and October (1 percent).
The most popular fish species sought in the charter trips
are salmonids -- salmon, steelhead and lake trout -- accounting
for 77 percent of the estimated 27,715 charter trips in
"The Great Lakes sport fishery has rebounded from
its low point in the early 1990s when disease was rampant
in salmonids," said Pistis, who works out of a Grand
Haven office. "The economic investments in and contributions
of the charter fishing industry mirror the recovery in
the Great Lakes fishery during that time."
Recreational and commercial fishing is a vital industry
in Michigan. Experts say the state's commercial fisheries
in the Great Lakes collectively are valued at more than
$4 billion a year.
Pistis said that charter fishing customers also make
significant contributions to the economies of Michigan's
coastal communities. He said clients spent nearly $20
million on food, lodging and other local purchases in
Great Lakes ports -- like Grand Haven -- last year.
Michigan is second in the number of charter fishing boats
in the Great Lakes. Ohio has the most, 794. New York is
third with 305 and Wisconsin is fourth with 258.