Faint Praise RIP CUNNINGHAM
THE SCALES REMAIN TIPPED, AND RECREATIONAL FISHERMEN EMERGE AS THE LOSERS. Damn. It seems like I got out of bed on the wrong side every day this week. I am not a very happy camper.
Every morning, I look out the window and watch valuable (IMHO) forage fish being scooped up by the tons. I am not aware of how all of this is accounted for, and even if it is, the quota was expanded ridiculously. The sport fishing had been good, but we will see if that lasts. With that as a background, I read the constant barrage of fishing-industry news that comes across my laptop screen. If managers and politicians took the recreational fishing industry and community seriously, or simply recognized their true value, I don’t believe this industry would, essentially, be ignored by those decision-makers. Yes, I have written about the positive changes made at both the federal and state levels to manage recreational fishing differently than the commercial fishery. That is the good news, but at the same time, it seems to me that we remain stuck in the old well-worn ruts of giving more recognition and support to the commercial fishing industry than to the recreational fishery.
For a fishery that I have a fairly good understanding of, let’s look at New England groundfish. Under the current status of the groundfish stocks, and this has been true for a while, it costs the federal government more to manage groundfish than this segment of the commercial industry lands in ex-vessel value. Does that make any sense to anyone who is watching federal dollars flow out the door? Maybe it does, if one believes that real management can restore the resources to their former glory. That restoration is doubtful with the environmental changes and fishing practices. Would it make sense to use the remaining resource to generate a much better economic outcome? Probably, but that concept would never even be discussed among managers. Innovative thinking about recreational management is minimal and way too political.
I continuously read about state and federal efforts to promote seafood consumption. I do not have any real problem with that. I have always been a supporter of utilizing all of the resources wisely and feeding people
with a resource that was formerly tossed over the side, simply feeding a bunch of benthic critters. Let’s compare the kinds of promotion the commercial fishing industry gets from its tax dollars to the same kinds of promotion the recreational fishing industry gets from the substantially greater number of tax dollars it puts into the public coffers. I believe there is no real comparison.
Recently, a bill, the Young Fishermen’s Development Act, was introduced in the U.S. Senate, and it aligns closely with a bill in the House. Modeled after a USDA program, which helps to develop the next generation of farmers and ranchers, it has garnered bipartisan support. I get it. It makes sense to keep the pipeline full. On the recreational fishing side, a major program is Take a Kid Fishing. That is also a great idea, and one that needs to expand if there is going to be sportfishing participants in the future. But that program is industry-funded. Hmm.
Looking at the bigger picture, the sport-fishing industry is part of the Outdoor Recreation Industry Roundtable (ORIR), whose supporting members generate just short of a trillion dollars of economic activity and 7.6 million jobs. This organization is fighting to keep some budget dollars that support and protect outdoor recreation on federal lands and waters for the federal land agencies that are charged with protecting and providing access to America’s great outdoors. I’d bet the cost-tobenefit ratio beats the heck out of many other government programs.
This year’s regional management council appointments supported recreational interests in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, where sport-fishing representation is strong. But looking at the overall value of recreational fishing, there should be broader support throughout the council system. Maybe the recreational industry has not pushed enough candidates, but when viable candidates have been promoted, they have been passed over for the same old, same old.
Are there positive things happening for the sport-fishing industry and the support of resources? Yes, there are. However, I continually sense that in proportion to the value of the recreational fishing industry, there is not enough real recognition given to this industry. Yes, there is the comparison of hard-working commercial fishermen to folks out having a good time catching some fish to take home or release. But digging behind the visuals, there are real, not alternative, facts that show the value and employment generated. Those speak for themselves and should be better at changing perception.
Arrgh! There goes another load of forage. Maybe I am just a grumpy old man. Or maybe there is inequity?
Anglers pull their own weight, with scant support from the feds.