A sweeping oceans and Great Lakes management policy document proposed by the Obama Administration will have a significant impact on the sportfishing industry, America's saltwater anglers and the nation's coastal communities. The draft policy, the Interim Report of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, issued on September 17, will govern federal Pacific and Atlantic Ocean waters and Great Lakes resource conservation and management and will coordinate these efforts among federal, state and local agencies. This past June, President Obama created the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, led by the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), to develop a draft national policy and implementation strategy for conserving and managing the United States ocean territory and the Great Lakes.
"While we are by and large supportive of the intent of the Interim Report, the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) has serious concerns regarding the direction the administration is taking regarding how to manage our nation's marine and freshwater public resources, choosing a tone of preservation over conservation," said ASA Vice President Gordon Robertson. "We are very disappointed that the task force failed to recognize recreational fishing's significant conservation, economic and social contributions and include recreational fishing as a key policy component. The sportfishing community strongly supports healthy and abundant ocean, coastal and fishery resources which have a direct impact on sustaining vibrant local coastal communities. Outdoor recreation, especially recreational fishing, is an integral part of coastal economies throughout this nation and therefore should be included as a priority in any national ocean policy."
"In regards to recreational fishing specifically, it is a long-standing policy of the federal government to allow public access to public lands and waters for recreational purposes consistent with sound conservation including the nation's wildlife refuges, national forests, and national parks and should be reflected in a national policy for the oceans and Great Lakes. In fact, the use of public resources by recreational anglers is essential to the conservation model used in this country for fish and wildlife management," said ASA Ocean Resource Policy Director Patty Doerr.
Doerr further said, "As with any good federal policy decision, discussions about measures that may restrict public access to public resources must involve an open public process, have a solid scientific basis and incorporate specific guidelines on implementation and follow-up. We are very concerned about the abbreviated 90 day timeline which forced the Task Force to issue this policy document prematurely. The implications of such a policy are vast and nationwide. Therefore, the review process should be very deliberate and go well beyond the 30 days public review and comment period which started on September 17." The Task Force's Interim Report is currently under a 30-day public review and comment period.
Since 1950, with the passage of the Sport Fish Restoration Act, anglers and the sportfishing industry have provided the bulk of funding for fisheries conservation and management in the United States through fishing license fees and the federal manufacturers excise tax on recreational fishing equipment. According to NOAA Fisheries, saltwater anglers contribute over $82 billion annually to the economy. Despite taking only three percent of the saltwater fish harvested each year, the recreational sector creates nearly half the jobs coming from domestic saltwater fisheries.
Robertson concluded, "The sportfishing community believes that recreational activities such as responsibly-managed and regulated recreational fishing deserve full consideration and incorporation in the administration's ocean and Great Lakes policy. Providing the angling public with access to public resources is no less important than conserving those resources. Therefore, we urge the Task Force to include recreational fishing as a separate and distinct ocean and Great Lakes priority. We also urge all anglers and recreational fishing supports to make their voices heard."
In July, ASA met with White House staff to provide comments to CEQ and the Task Force. In August, ASA staff met with Department of Interior staff to discuss their involvement in the Task Force and provide ASA's perspective on various ocean policy issues, including marine spatial planning and marine reserves.