Iowa DNR Director Chuck Gipp at the Decorah Fish Hatchery

Trout streams in Northeast Iowa bring in significant visitor spending, according to a new economic impact study released last week. Iowa DNR Director Chuck Gipp, Northeast Iowa RC&D Executive Director Lora Friest, and Trout Unlimited’s Duke Welner spoke at report’s unveiling Friday afternoon at the Decorah Trout Hatchery.

The new report quantifies the direct, indirect and induced effects of trout fishing in the Driftless Area. Based on a survey of trout anglers who purchased trout stamps in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, the report details the demographics of trout anglers, the percentage of anglers that are visitors vs. locals, whether visitors came specifically to fish, where visitors traveled from, and visiting anglers’ spending habits while they’re here.  A central conclusion is the total economic impact of trout fishing in the region: more than $1.6 billion per year.

According to the study, each dollar an angler spends locally on direct costs like lodging, supplies, and restaurants, creates ripple effects that add-up to another 70 cents.

And as stream restoration work, watershed planning and public-private partnerships continue to make more miles of trout stream fishable and accessible, angler spending in the region can only grow. “Iowa is home to an estimated 530 miles of coldwater streams,” said Mike Siepker, Fisheries Management Biologist with the Iowa DNR in Decorah. “Over 46,000 trout stamps were purchased in 2016—the most sold in any year to date.”

Speakers at the event were quick to point out that restoring and stewarding trout streams and economically engaging the anglers they attract requires cooperation from many partners. “These fishing opportunities are the result of cooperation and collaboration,” said Siepker. “We work with landowners to provide public fishing opportunities and improve stream habitat. Angling groups and conservation partners provide support to make it all happen.”

The Winneshiek County chapter of Pheasants Forever was recently recognized for their excellence in working with local partners to increase conservation practices that create habitat—which, Winneshiek County PF Chair Todd Duncan points out, has benefits for other species and for water quality. “In the 31 years our organization has been active in Winneshiek County, we’ve spent $2.25 million working with local landowners to implement conservation practices. And that’s having a positive impact. That’s one of the highlights of this report for me—people are investing their time, money and energy into increasing conservation because it is yielding results.”

Lora Friest of Northeast Iowa RC&D agreed. “We work with thousands of partners on hundreds of projects but I don’t know of any other effort in the four-state area that has such an amazing impact -not only on the natural resource – the trout streams and the natural reproduction of trout – but also on the businesses, communities and economy of the region.”

But all these partners may not recognize the full impact of angling on the local economy—something this report aims to clear up. “If anglers would wear their waders into the convenience store or grocery, their presence would be more evident to businesspeople,” said Welter.