Fishing in lakes and streams is more than just a leisurely pastime. In most states, including Utah, it's big business, according to a newly released study.

In fact, say state wildlife officials, as measured by retail sales, fishing and hunting combined are much bigger in Utah than skiing."The difference is one group (skiing) has a consolidated lobby and the other (fishing and hunting) doesn't," said newly appointed Wildlife Director Tim Provan.

A recent study by the Sport Fishing Institute, based in Washington, D.C., ranked Utah fourth of eight intermountain states in the number of people who fish and third in the amount of state income tax revenue generated from the sport.

According to the survey, which took one year to compile, fishing-related industries added $4.8 million of income tax and $11.1 million in sales tax to Utah's coffers in 1985. The sport generated 5,930 jobs in the state that year, third among the eight mountain states. The state's 433,000 fishermen (and women) bought $169.8 million worth of equipment in 1985.

State officials said the sales rise to $327 million when hunting is added. According to a ski industry brochure, skiing accounts for about $157 million in retail sales.

Tourism also is tied to fishing and hunting, Provan said. In 1985 an estimated 160,000 out-of-state residents came to Utah for wildlife sports. That accounts for about 37 percent of the total.

The statistics surprise many people. Provan said there are several reasons his office rarely promotes the wonders of Utah hunting and fishing. The most important is that the Wildlife Division is a government agency with a charge to protect and preserve wildlife.

"We don't want to become an agency that uses wildlife to make money," he said.

Also important is the fact that most people who fish enjoy solitude. If the state promoted its fishing attractions, hordes of people could ruin the ambiance.

Still, Provan wishes fishing, hunting and other wildlife uses were recognized for what they add to the economy. Then state lawmakers might be more generous with funds.

"We can't satisfy the public's needs as we'd like to," Provan said. "We are in a tenuous position right now. We've outgrown our funding."

According to the survey, Utah's fishing industry is still small compared with other states. Utah finished 37th in the total amount of money spent on fishing, just behind Idaho and just ahead of New Mexico.

Provan believes that is because of the state's population, which, according to 1987 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, was ranked 35th.

Nationally, more than 1.1 million people owe their jobs to sport fishing, according to the survey. More than 60 million people fish, adding $70.6 billion to the nation's economy.

"Sport fishing has often been viewed solely as a form of recreation, and the sizable economic impact of the sport has previously not been recognized," said Gil Radonski, president of the institute.

Colorado topped the intermountain states with 1.2 million fishermen and $9.5 million in income tax revenue from the sport. Florida leads the nation with $3.1 billion in fishing-related sales and an industry that accounts for 97,497 jobs, according to the survey.

Not surprisingly, California, another state with considerable coastline, finished second.


The economic impacts of sport fishing in Utah

(All figures are for 1985)

- Total spent on goods and services - $169.6 million

- Jobs generated by fishing - 5,930

- State sales tax generated - $11.1 million

- State income tax generated - $4.8 million

- License revenue - $5.4 million