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Core Value
Sue Scott

January 10th, 2012

A socio-economic study by Gardner Pinfold Consulting Economists Ltd. confirms that Canadians hold a special place in their heart (and pocketbook) for Atlantic salmon restoration.

You were always certain of this: That the recreational wild Atlantic salmon fishery was a valuable resource in Eastern Canada’s economy. But exactly how much is it worth? Back in 2005 the survey of recreational fishing in Canada by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) pegged it at 62 million dollars. Not chump change, yet to those of us that regularly heard the ring of cash registers from Bonaventure to Blackville and beyond every salmon season, the figure seemed low. And with tightening budgets and competing interests wanting their share of government monies, it was becoming increasingly important to accurately estimate the value of Salmo salar.

Simply stated, in a challenging economic climate, money talks. Because of competing demands for government resources, DFO is losing track of its mandate to conserve and restore wild Atlantic salmon. DFO budgets related to Atlantic salmon have declined by nearly 75% since 1985.

Establishing a legitimate socio-economic value for wild Atlantic salmon would close an important gap and help make a solid economic case for investment in the resource by various levels of government. With so much at stake, ASF wanted to be certain that any study on the economic value of wild Atlantic salmon followed an established practice that was transparent and comprehensive. In this way, the report’s audience—policy makers and the public—could understand clearly what is at risk and, more importantly, the opportunity that exists

Enter the Gardner Pinfold (GP) group—a firm that has worked extensively with DFO on the economics of marine resources. Among the 300-plus economic analysis studies completed by Gardner Pinfold, approximately one-third have been dedicated to fisheries issues.

In response to ASF’s request to determine the economic value of wild Atlantic salmon, the firm charged founding president Michael Gardner and economist Gregor MacAskill with the task. The two decided on a tried and proven approach to determine the total socio-economic value of wild Atlantic salmon. They would combine the receipted value, or transactions where money is paid related to recreational and First Nations fishing or conservation, with a non-use value that would be based on the public’s willingness to pay new taxes dedicated to restoring the resource.

In order to calculate the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) value based on actual expenses and the “non-use value” potential, GP group randomly surveyed 1,324 salmon anglers (users), and 995 Canadian citizens (non-users) from the general population of Quebec and the four Atlantic Provinces. The angler survey used a larger sample than DFO’s previous study. Also, the survey of the general public took place just after the last federal election, when the public eye was focussed squarely on a dire global economic situation.

“It may not have been the best time, certainly from a salmon conservationist’s point of view,” MacAskill said in late October, when he had the benefit of hindsight. “With the average Canadian preoccupied with debt and declining incomes, we were asking if they would support Atlantic salmon conservation which, to be honest, might seem an expensive cause or frivolous recreational past-time in the midst of a current public agenda dominated by economic challenges.”

MacAskill was pleasantly surprised, however. “The results were fabulous,” he said. “Such strong support for Atlantic salmon among non-users, against that dire economic backdrop, adds extra weight to the results. This kind of response in tough times cements the fact that protecting Atlantic salmon rests solidly among the core values of all Canadians.”

And for Gardner Pinfold, “core value” is anything but an abstract term. Respondents were asked how much they would be willing to plunk down for Atlantic salmon restoration programs. Their study confirmed that more than 80% of the public supports investment in salmon restoration with a “willingness to pay” in the range of $4.50 to $12.50 per tax-paying household. And it also asked why—the importance of the species’ existence and its importance to our natural heritage and ecosystem integrity were the top two rationales. This intrinsic worth represents a public investment potential for long-term conservation programs of $105 million in 2010 alone.

While this value is not receipted spending, it does indicate that there is the potential for a significant tax funded increase in the economic value of the recreational fishery that merits consideration. The concept of non-use value is well established in eco­nomic analysis, and has been used by the DFO in other studies. In addition, the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO), an international treaty organization to which Canada is a signatory nation, recognizes and endorses the concept of non-use value.

The GDP (receipted spending) findings were nothing to sniff at either. The GP study values spending on wild Atlantic salmon in 2010 at $150 million GDP—a figure that is more than double DFO’s 2005 estimate of $62 million. And with the added non-use value, the total annual economic value for wild Atlantic salmon in Canada is estimated at $255 million. In addition, Gardner Pinfold calculated 3,872 Full-time Equivalent (FTE) jobs are directly created annually because of wild Atlantic salmon.

The GP study is only the beginning. In the coming months the results will be used to help convince governments that wild Atlantic salmon are worth investing in. Their economic value to regions with few alternative employment options is magnified when the number of visiting anglers increases. And as common sense dictates, and the GP study confirms, higher angler numbers are the key driver for growth in spending and even greater economic benefits from the wild Atlantic salmon fishery. For example, more anglers participated in the recreational fishery in 2010 (53,883) due to better runs, compared to 2005 (41,737). It certainly isn’t rocket science: the more fish there are, the more anglers there are. Spending in the recreational salmon fishery in 2010 alone amounted to $128,283,000, with a GDP value of $115,263,000 and the creation of 3,316 FTE jobs.

By including a non-use figure ($105 million), ASF and Gardner Pinfold recognize the intrinsic benefits of wild Atlantic salmon. Still, there were important spiritual and cultural benefits that could not be quantified. The First Nations value had to be a receipted one (nets, gas, boats, etc.) because putting a dollar figure on the spiritual value of Atlantic salmon would be like trying to estimate the worth of life itself. And what of the symbolic value of salmon as the very “hook” that draws tourists, business people and settlers to remote areas (see Headwaters, page 4)?

Atlantic salmon’s role in the cultural and historic fabric of Eastern Canada is as pervasive as it is impossible to label in monetary terms. To some extent, that is the role of this journal and we will continue to trumpet those values, side by side with the economic worth of Salmo salar as long and as loudly as possible. Stay tuned.

Sue Scott is ASF’s VP of Communications.

If you have any comments on Atlantic salmon issues and coverage, or would like further information, contact:

Sue Scott, V.P. Communications
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