(The Center Square) – Missouri government’s focus on preserving natural resources throughout the decades contributed to a $1.2 billion recreational fishing industry, and a new public-private partnership will continue the legacy.
The University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and its School of Natural Resources, the Missouri Conservation Department and the nonprofit Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation announced the creation of the Institute of Fisheries, Wetlands and Aquatic Systems earlier this week.
The new institute was made possible through a $1.7 million gift from an anticipated $30 million endowment held by the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation. The nonprofit, its donors and partners plan to build the endowment during the next 10 years for the continued operation of the institute.
“It was an interesting way for people who were supportive not just of fishing but of wetland systems and aquatic and water systems to come together and say they’re going to raise some money privately to further enhance what we’ve been doing all along,” Eric Kurzejeski, the institute’s interim director, said in an interview with The Center Square.
Kurzejeski, a university instructor who began his career with the conservation department in the 1970s, said Missouri’s stewardship of natural resources paid dividends throughout the decades.
“Missouri’s conservation legacy is always being forward looking,” Kurzejeski said. “We always have to look to the future to be effective stewards of the resources.”
Missouri’s recreational fishing supports 9,500 jobs throughout the state and $8.2 million in excise taxes were appropriated in 2019 through the Sportfish Restoration Act, an initiative to support fisheries projects and aquatic education. Approximately 1.4 million people fish in Missouri waters each year.
“Recreation as a whole is a huge economic engine in our state,” Kurzejeski said. “And even for people who don’t care to fish, I haven’t met anybody who likes to live in an ugly place. I think we all like to enjoy natural resources, be it looking out our window and seeing trees or going down and enjoying our forests and streams. I think people come to Missouri because we have exceptional natural resource conservation in place. I think it affects every aspect of tourism.”
The institute will train the next generation of fisheries, wetlands and aquatic systems conservationists, environmental scientists and researchers. It also will serve as a national center of research and best management practices for fisheries, wildlife and aquatic systems.
The institute also will develop and support public policy focusing on integrated conservation and economics of water, fish and wildlife resources, wetlands, agriculture and associated outdoor recreation.
“We’ve always have to look into the future to be effective stewards of the resource,” Kurzejeski said. “And so how do we combat change whether it’s farming, water quality or conservation? Missouri has always been looking ahead at how we potentially deal with problems or opportunities that could come instead of waiting until something happens and wondering how we’re going to deal with a situation.”