Alabama’s Lewis Smith Lake striped bass fishery an economic engine

By on August 15, 2014
Striped bass from Lewis Smith Lake (Courtesy: Ryan Lothrop)

For the average angler, a well-stocked reservoir is a great place to relax and wait for some bites on a Sunday afternoon. But to Terry Hanson, a professor at Auburn University who specializes in aquaculture economics, that reservoir is a financial boon waiting to be revealed.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources approached Hanson with the task of valuing a popular striped bass fishery at Lewis Smith Lake, a reservoir with an unusually deep channel — a perfect cold-water haven for the temperamental fish.

Hanson explained the department’s quandary: “They basically said, ‘Well, we’re not sure what the value of this fishery is, but we know people like it, and it’s probably worth a lot.’”

So Hanson and a team of researchers conducted a study to determine the economic impact of the recreational fishery at Lewis Smith Lake. The study, published in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management, synthesized data obtained through angler surveys and flyover boat counts.

The results showed that each year, striped bass anglers at Lewis Smith Lake spend around $750,000. Calculating tax rates based on anglers’ expense responses, the researchers revealed the lake’s significant value.

“For every dollar spent in stocking costs, $2 were generated for the county and $7 for the state,” Hanson said. “That was a surprising finding. That sums up the whole study in a nutshell and that’s what the state legislature wants to hear.”

Lewis Smith Lake (Courtesy: Ryan Northrop)

Lewis Smith Lake (Courtesy: Ryan Lothrop)

Eight days per month for a year, the researchers surveyed anglers right on the lake. Each survey only took about 10 minutes, and raised questions regarding where the angler came from, how long their trip was, what type of fish they were targeting, and what their expenses included. When asked, many of the anglers also agreed to participate in a more in-depth phone survey.

“We were surprised at the number of people that came to the reservoir specifically targeting striped bass,” Hanson said. “We knew it was a good one, but this solidified our understanding of how important this fishery is to the reservoir.”

Flyovers allowed the researchers to count boats on all three of the lake’s arms, Hanson said. The team performed three flyovers over the course of the year. Hanson noted that the technique was also used on a similar later study on Lake Guntersville.

A striped bass charter on Lewis Smith Lake (Courtesy: Ryan Lothrop)

A striped bass charter on Lewis Smith Lake (Courtesy: Ryan Lothrop)

Although the reservoir and fishery bring in a tidy sum of annual revenue for both the surrounding counties and the state, Hanson said there’s even more money to be made — if the rural region can improve their negligible and neglected infrastructure and lodgings.

“The old idea of just the guys going out and fishing is kind of changing,” Hanson said. “If we want to attract more money, these facilities are going to have to improve. They’re going to want higher quality, especially if they bring the wife and kids.”

When it comes to the source of Lewis Smith Lake’s value, the factor that keeps anglers coming back year after year, there’s little mystery:

“Fishermen just love catching 40-pound striped bass,” Hanson said.

Top image: Striped bass from Lewis Smith Lake (Courtesy: Ryan Lothrop)

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