Go Fish Education Center Expected To Bring $6.3 Million Yearly To Houston County
Fishing is big business in Georgia, and it’s about to get even bigger. Gov. Sonny Perdue cut the celebratory ribbon at the official dedication of the Go Fish Education Center in Perry on Thursday, Oct. 7, with a host of many community leaders and supporters. Developed as part of the Go Fish Georgia Initiative, the center, which opened to the public on Friday, Oct. 8, will promote better water stewardship and increased fishing participation around the state. The center is expected to bring in 100,000 visitors to central Georgia and have a $6.3 million economic impact in Houston County each year, says Lauren Curry, DNR’s director of public and governmental affairs.
“The Go Fish Georgia Initiative will allow us to improve our fishing resources and boat access, drawing not only more tourists but also major fishing tournaments that will have a positive economic impact in communities across Georgia,” said Gov. Perdue. “It also promotes conservation and encourages families to spend time together outdoors, making memories that will last a lifetime.”
The idea for the Go Fish Georgia Initiative came from Les Ager, a retired WRD regional fisheries supervisor. In 2003, he saw that major fishing tournaments and their big dollars were going to other states with better fishing facilities. He thought Georgia should have a much bigger dog in the race for sportsman and tourism dollars, thus the idea for the Go Fish Center and a statewide mega-boat-ramp program was hatched with Gov. Perdue and legislative leaders supporting the concept.
Construction of the center began in 2008 and was completed in September 2010. The center functions under WRD’s fisheries section. The director of the new center is Michael Gramley, who previously worked as a biologist at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.
The center features an interactive and educational journey through Georgia’s diverse watersheds, from the mountains to the coastal plain. With 76 species of fish on display in tanks and ponds filled with 200,000 gallons of water, the center offers an unparalleled opportunity to learn about Georgia’s aquatic wildlife and habitats.
A kids’ casting pond is being stocked with hybrids, catfish and bream that will allow children to catch a few fish while at the center. The pond is not yet open but will be soon. Inside are boating and fishing simulators with interactive fishing reels and a large TV screen that lets visitors test their skills on the water and gives anglers a dry run at fishing.
The center’s state-of-the-art fish hatchery offers a look at the science of fisheries management. Presently, there are freshwater sturgeon in development in the tanks that will be stocked in the rivers of north Georgia, said Max Wood, manager of Flat Creek PFA, who helps at the center. The hatchery will expand research and increase fish production to improve the quality of fishing in Georgia.
Our state still holds the record for the world-record bass, although the record has now been tied with a fish from Japan. The hatchery will attempt to develop, through selective breeding, bass fingerlings that could be stocked into Georgia rivers, lakes and streams that could produce the next world-record bass, which would be a tremendous boon to fishing in Georgia waters.
The center also will offer educational programs to school systems and to the public and will include an alligator pond, which will house four live alligators, the biggest at 5 feet long.
“Whether you are new to fishing, mentoring a young angler or are a seasoned professional, you will find exhibits here that educate, excite and encourage you to get outdoors and go fish,” said Chris Clark, commissioner of DNR.
Clark said one large room of the center will be devoted to shooting skills with several electronic, laser-type shooting games for both children and adults. The shooting area is in development and should be open very soon.
The center is part of the Go Fish Georgia Initiative, a $30 million initiative that leverages $19 million in state-bond financing with private donations and financial support from local communities. Major financial sponsors are Georgia Power ($1 million), Coke, the Houston County Commissioners ($500,000), the Houston County Development Authority ($1.5 million), Middle Georgia Tech Foundation, city of Perry ($500,000), Perry Chamber of Commerce, Coral Hospitality, Ranger Boats, Sundance Boats, Georgia Pacific and the Altria Company.
Large billboards along I-75 and other advertising will have residents and visitors dropping by the center, where their visits will turn into dollars at local restaurants, stores and hotels. In a ripple effect, the new fishing interest will move to other locations and fishing destinations across Georgia. That interest will be supported thanks to new mega ramps and fishing tournaments across the state.
Tournament fishing brings big money to a local economy. As a recent example, the FLW Tour tournament brought an impact of $20 million into the Lake Lanier area this past August, says Bert Brantley, Gov. Perdue’s director of communications. This kind of economic activity helps create jobs in Georgia.
The center is located next to the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry. Standard hours will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
Fees are as follows: Adults, $5; Seniors 65 and up, $4; children 3 to 12 years of age, $3; children 2 and younger are free. An annual pass policy and fee is now being set up and should give supporters a great way to visit often and support the center. The center will also need a lot of volunteers to help support the aquariums, visitor areas, fishing simulators and gift shop. Contact the center if you are interested in helping.
Go to <www.gofisheducationcenter.com> or call (478) 988-7187 for more information.
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