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The recreational fishing industry in Everglades National Park is, to local anglers and tourists alike, a highlight of their visit to the park. FIU researchers explore the effects that reducing freshwater flow to the Everglades may have on the 1.2 billion dollar industry within the region.

The study, a part of the Department of Earth and Environment and Agroecology doctoral student Christina Brown’s dissertation, places a monetary value on the overall recreational ecosystem services offered in the Everglades. Her research supervised by Dr. Mahadev Bhat estimates that in recent years, up to 68.1 million dollars have already been lost annually in recreational services.

The 30 years of historical data used for this study show that freshwater flow is among the most crucial factors influencing an angler’s ability to catch fish. Unfortunately, the data also sheds light on the sharp decline of freshwater flow to the Everglades.

Estimates for the years 2012 to 2014 found that from March to May, the monthly flow of freshwater to the Everglades fell as much as 68.3% below targets suggested by water managers and environmentalists. Such drastic declines in water flow result in similarly drastic reductions in the number of desirable fish that anglers are able to catch, with the number of fish caught being reduced by anywhere between 25% to 50%.

Costs associated with park restoration are consistently taken into account during pivotal policy decisions, while the financial benefits reaped from investing in a healthy environment are, perhaps even more consistently, grossly overlooked.

“People often look at the dollar cost of restoration while not fully appreciating the dollar value of the various ecosystem benefits that the restoration effort can bring to society,” comments Bhat.

Today, recreational fishing accounts for over 1.2 billion dollars of economic activity in the Everglades. The question is, other than fishing, what brings anglers to this region? According to Brown and her team, recreational anglers actually attach the highest value to non-fishing related attributes.

“…although anglers engage mainly in fishing activity during their trip to the Everglades, they enjoy the overall health of the ecosystem more than the fishing itself. Just the experience of being in the nature and enjoying the aesthetic beauty is worth more to them than the fishing experience is,” explains Brown.

It is clear that anglers visit the Everglades for far more than just the fish that they catch. Studies such as this one therefore aim to educate the public in the economic benefits associated with Everglades restoration, making them more likely to engage with policy makers in their communities in support of restoration efforts.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation Water Sustainability and Climate Project (EAR-1204762) and assisted by a team that included Drs. Jennifer Rehage, Pallab Mozumber and Michael Sukop.

Brown’s study is the first attempt ever at linking water management variables with Everglades ecosystem services relevant to humans over a long period of time. You can learn more about their research here.