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.

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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?

By Rip Cunningham

An­glers pull their own weight, with scant sup­port from the feds.

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