The fact that fishing is critical to the future success of our industry is well-documented by studies like those from the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation. As I pointed out here on Tuesday, RBFF’s latest study revealed a whopping 8.4 million anglers do not currently own a boat, but say they’re considering buying one. That’s great news!
But in fishing, all is not well. To sell boats to these fishermen, we must be engaged in protecting and advancing the sport. Activist environmental groups bent on shutting down saltwater fishing wherever they can have been gaining success in places like California. Powerful organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund are pushing bad concepts like sector separation and catch shares. And, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, with a long history of pandering to saltwater commercial fishing interests, has used its “fishery management councils” to support abrupt fishing closures throughout our coastal areas based on stock assessments that are unscientific and lack integrity.
However, some things may be changing for the better. For one thing, the recent increase in regulations and closures has turned angler groups and the boating & fishing industries into “fishing activists.” Organizations like the American Sportfishing Association and the Recreational Fishing Alliance have become more vocal than ever about the poor stock assessments, Draconian closures and growing regulations. Feeling the heat, NMFS is scrapping its 40-year old assessment methods for the new Marine Recreation Information Program. It’s a system of coordinated data collection programs designed to address specific regional needs for recreational fishing information. This regional approach, based on a nationally consistent standard, will ensure that the appropriate, targeted, place-based information is being collected to best meet the needs of managers and stakeholders, and that it’s being done in a scientifically rigorous way. So says NMFS.
In addition, in its management decisions, NMFS has heretofore virtually ignored the economic impact of recreational fishing i.e. $18 billion spent annually on fishing equipment that supports more than 385,000 American jobs and produces an overall positive impact of $59 billion annually. This year, however, NMFS will conduct a nationwide telephone and in-person survey of over 73,000 anglers to document how much America’s estimated 15 million saltwater anglers spend on their sport. NMFS has turned to NMMA and requested its member saltwater fishing boat builders encourage their customers to participate in this study. NMFS says this will improve their understanding and appreciation of recreational fishing and the wide array of associated boating and fishing industries.
Freshwater fishing isn’t immune to problems, either. While management by the states is generally excellent, anti-fishing proponents use limiting access as their weapon of choice. That’s why, for example, we need to push for passage of the “Making Public Lands Public Access Act” (S-901) in Congress sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT). It directs at least $10 million to be used for easements and access roads to ensure fishing, hunting and other recreations have access.
According to KeepAmericaFishing.org, lack of access is the primary reason that keeps anglers from a day on the water, and regulations restricting angler access are increasing. A recent Congressional report concluded more than 35 million acres of federal lands currently have inadequate access. Learn more at KeepAmericaFishing.org.
Finally, two organizations are notable for their work to prevent unreasonable restrictions on fishing. NMMA is heavily involved with other fishing industry groups in the ASA. At the same time, the mostly angler-supported RFA is also active on a daily basis. The two offer a one-two punch for fishing interests – ASA takes the diplomatic road in dealing with lawmakers and regulators while RFA is noted for being bold, outspoken, very aggressive and even willing to file lawsuits when necessary.
Dealers need to be more engaged by (a) writing Congress when necessary, (2) by encouraging employees and customers to be more vocal, and (3) by joining a group like the RFA (www.joinrfa.org). There’s simply too much at stake to sit back and let others dictate the game.