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After years of decline, freshwater sport fishing is on the rebound in British Columbia, according to a new study that found more than 300,000 anglers are spending more than $500-million a year on the activity.

The study, being released today by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C., found that, annually, sports fishermen spend seven times more on equipment than downhill skiers and inject more into the provincial economy than cruise-ship passengers.

"It's a groundbreaking study," said Don Peterson, president of FFSBC, a non-profit organization that works in partnership with the provincial government to provide fish-stocking programs and promote the sport.

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He said the study is important because it puts hard economic numbers to what is often seen as a simple leisure activity.

"While we always knew that freshwater anglers spent a lot of money chasing the big one, we are now able to quantify the extent to which investments in sport fishing produce returns for the province's tourism and hospitality industries," Mr. Peterson said.

The report looks only at freshwater fishing, not at ocean angling for salmon, which is under federal authority.

The study, by economist Gordon Gislason, found the buyers of 319,000 angling licences in 2005 spent $480-million on equipment, travel, accommodation and hospitality services. By 2008, licence sales had climbed to 340,200 and annual angler expenditures had grown to $530-million.

Mr. Peterson said the trend indicates that by 2017 there will be 416,700 sports anglers in British Columbia, marking a return to a level of participation not seen since declines began in the 1990s.

Many had thought that in an increasingly urbanized country, where many immigrants come from homes unfamiliar with angling, sport fishing was destined to fade from Canadian culture.

But Mr. Peterson said the popularity of fishing is increasing because of a number of initiatives. Angling regulations have been streamlined, it has become easier to buy licences on the Internet, community outreach programs have introduced the sport to children and immigrants, and fishing opportunities have been improved by stocking programs.

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The report notes that British Columbia's stocking program is unique in North America, because hatchery fish are produced from eggs collected yearly from wild stock. The result is that the genetics of wild strains are protected, although up to eight million trout and steelhead are stocked each year.

The report also states that British Columbia is at the forefront of introducing sterile forms of kokanee, cutthroat and rainbow trout into fishing lakes. By manipulating water temperatures when the eggs are incubating, the hatchery program is able to produce fish that are sterilized; as a result, the fish put all their energy into growth, not reproduction, so they become bigger and faster. The development of "trophy" fish has helped drive an increase in sports angling.

"The stocking program results in $21 in angler expenditures for every $1 in stocking costs, an exceptional return on investment," the report states.

It says 1,000 businesses that outfit freshwater anglers contribute $210-million in GDP, and generate wages and benefits of $120-million and tax revenues of $125-million.

The report found that anglers release about three-quarters of the fish they catch, and that the average angler spends $120 a day to catch 2.1 fish.

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