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updated: 6/11/2014 6:21 PM

Gulf states prosper from wildlife tourism

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Here are some eye-popping numbers to crunch.

Florida's 23 coastal counties are home to 16,000 wildlife tourism-related businesses. State and local governments generate nearly $1 billion in tax revenue from tourism, a sum that could pay salaries of over 16,000 nurses. More than 7.6 million wildlife tourists visit Florida every year.

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The wildlife tourism industry in the Gulf of Mexico states is a $19 billion industry and generates 2.6 million jobs. A report entitled "Wildlife Tourism and the Gulf Coast Economy" concluded that wildlife tourism is extremely valuable to the Gulf Coast economy and relies heavily on the health of the endangered Gulf Coast ecosystem in Louisiana, Florida, Texas, Alabama and Mississippi.

Wildlife tourism includes recreational fishing, hunting and wildlife watching.

In addition to $19 billion in annual spending, the report said that wildlife tourism attracts more than 20 million participants annually, generates $5.3 billion in annual in tax revenues and found that tourism jobs can account for 20-36 percent of all private jobs in counties that border the coast.

Here's the real corker -- an eye-opener for folks in Illinois.

Recreational fishing accounts for the largest share of spending -- about $8 billion. Wildlife watching generates $6.5 billion and hunting a total of $5 billion. Florida has the largest wildlife tourism segment at $8 billion, while Texas is second at over $5 billion. Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi each bring in nearly $2 billion in wildlife tourism revenues.

The report said that tourism creates 489,256 jobs in 53 counties from Florida to Texas. More than half of those are in Florida, while the report said Mississippi tourism creates 26,294 jobs in its three counties.

Of the $5.3 billion in tax revenue, about $2.5 billion are state and local revenue. Again, Florida leads that group with about $1 billion, while Mississippi and its coastal counties gain about $209 million annually.

One wonders: could that kind of cash inflow and job creation help ease the unemployment and inflated tax burden in Illinois?

Just thinking:

With the "dumping" of thousands of young channel catfish into the Chicago River this week, it's anyone's guess that once these fish grow and possibly reproduce, will the River be enticing enough to draw angling crowds?

On the fishing front:

If your agenda includes local walleye, the Fox Chain could supply you with some action-if the water level is decent and not overly stained. Look to where current areas sling by shoreline points and bridges. ... Lake Michigan perch have arrived in a big way. Better late than not at all, said one old-timer. South Siders are having a better go of it with some jumbos in the coolers from 95th St. well into Indiana. ... Lake Delavan largemouth are still quite active and hitting plastic worms, whacky-worms and small spinner baits.

Mike Jackson can be reached via e-mail at: angler88@comcast.net. Mike's radio program is heard Sunday mornings 6-7 a.m., on WSBC, AM-1240.

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