Long Island’s fishing industry is a small but key component of the economy that has the potential to attract more tourist dollars if investments are made in advertising, boats, piers and other infrastructure, experts said Thursday.
Fishing, both commercial and recreational, attracts visitors to the Island and leads to spending by residents. The activity supports restaurants, delis, hotels and stores in coastal communities, according to a new study from Farmingdale State College’s Business and Economic Research Center.
The center’s director, Richard Vogel, said “the ocean economy” of Nassau and Suffolk counties generates $2.4 billion in activity per year, or about 1.4 percent of the gross domestic product, the sum of all the goods and services produced here.
He said about 49,000 people work in the sector, which is centered on commercial and recreational fishing but includes tourism-related businesses in coastal areas, such as delis, motels, retailers, marinas, campgrounds, amusement parks and museums.
“In terms of strictly numbers, it seems like the recreational fisheries and the commercial fisheries are very small in comparison to the region’s economy,” said Vogel, who also is dean of Farmingdale State’s business school. “But they are a strong attractor” of tourists and improve the quality of life for residents.
“People come in and they fish, but they also do other things such as recreational boating, shopping, staying at a hotel,” he told about 50 people on Thursday at a campus event with the Melville Chamber of Commerce.
The study was paid for with $261,700 from New York Sea Grant, a federal-state program that promotes stewardship of coastal resources. The study includes a poll of 750 beachgoers in 20 local communities that was conducted by Farmingdale students in 2015-16.
The poll shows that Long Islanders and tourists are divided over whether more hotels and vacation homes are needed, with non-residents calling for additional lodging. However, both groups agree more nightlife, concerts and eating establishments would be nice, said Nanda Viswanathan, assistant dean in the business school.
He and Vogel said the ocean economy would grow faster if more money were spent on advertising campaigns to make tourists aware of charter boats and other services, and if improvements were made to boats and fishing piers.
Another key challenge is getting young people to become anglers, said Pat Augustine, a member of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, an industry regulator. Holding up a cellphone, he said, “How do we get them away from this damn thing and get them into the real world?”
August Ruckdeschel, an official with the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning, said the county is attempting through its Choose LI campaign to get residents of all ages to purchase more locally produced seafood and farm products.
“Ninety one percent of the seafood that Americans eat comes from abroad," he said. "That’s a problem.”