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Thursday, February 2, 2012 - 2:00am

Go Fish Still Ramping Up

A taxpayer-funded program to build 17 jumbo boat ramps and a fishing education center in Georgia is drawing criticism for underperforming. But officials say it’s still too early to condemn the Go Fish Initiative.

Then-Gov. Sonny Perdue sparked controversy with his plan to spend $19 million on the program designed to draw big-time fishing tournaments and boost fishing tourism in 2007.

Now, 14 of the 17 ramps are complete. Half have hosted some kind of tournament with more than 2,500 anglers participating.

But only a few of those are the big national competitions Perdue touted when he launched the Go Fish program.

“The idea that you would get one of those on every facility every year is pretty far-fetched. We didn’t expect that,” said John Biagi, fisheries chief with the state Department of Natural Resources, noting there is a limited number of those big events to go around.

“But there’s still a lot of economic activity associated with weekend club tournaments and regional tournaments,” Biagi said.

The Professional Anglers Association had an event at Lake Lanier last year but no funding help from the local area, according to the group’s president Dave Mansue. He said Georgia still has work to do to attract more tournaments.

“Bringing an awareness to those communities of what a very small investment can do for your community would have a great impact on the ability to get more tournaments there and bring in more tax and revenue dollars to those communities,” Mansue said.

DNR estimates said major tournaments can generate $4 million to $5 million in economic impact around the boat ramps. Economists have said the true impact is probably somewhat less than that in smaller, rural communities.

Meanwhile, the program’s fishing education center and hatchery opened 13 months ago in Perry.

It is forecast to draw 100,000 visitors a year. Last month, 1,100 people visited, triple the number in December 2010.

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