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Can Native Species Compete with Valuable Exotics? Measuring Willingness to Pay for Recreational Fishing in Lake Michigan Public Deposited

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  • Lake Michigan is the only Great Lake that supports an economically viable salmonid population, but a collapse may be on the horizon. Biomass of Chinook Salmon, the most popular sportfish in the region, decreased by 70 percent between 2013 and 2015. The decline is thought to be irreversible. Managers must decide whether to allocate scarce resources to forestall further declines in Chinook Salmon—an exotic species—or support native species such as Lake Trout and Walleye that are more resilient to current environmental conditions. Predicting the economic impacts of either strategy requires an understanding of the relationship between species composition and fishing behaviors. We estimate discrete choice models to predict the tradeoffs recreational anglers make among fishing trip attributes. We then use these estimates to calculate the non-market benefits associated with different fishing trip configurations. We find that despite recent reductions in success rates, Chinook Salmon remain the most valuable species in the lake, generating about $34 million in value annually. Extirpation of the species likely would cause large economic losses. If all current salmon fishing trips instead targeted Lake Trout, the most-similar substitute biologically, economic value would decrease by 80 percent. Substituting Walleye, the second-most popular sportfish after Chinook Salmon, would lead to economic gains in theory; however, Walleye populations are geographically concentrated and inaccessible to many anglers. Although preserving Chinook Salmon may be at odds with the rehabilitation of native species from an ecological perspective, preventing further declines is strongly preferred by the current mix of anglers.
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  • Seattle, Washington, USA
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