Anglers being cast aside?

This is a column from Robert Montgomery for ESPN Outdoors. As a Senior Writer for BASS Publications, Montgomery has written about conservation, environment, and access issues for more than two decades. It's part of a series of articles from Montgomery on the issue.

Are federal bureaucrats intentionally attempting to limit angler participation in the "public process" for a management plan that could close some of the nation's waters to recreational fishing?

No one in the fishing industry is making such an accusation. But they are pointing out some facts that certainly could lead a suspicious mind in that direction: As of Monday afternoon, Oct. 19, the web site for the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force has yet to post the dates for the final public meeting, set for the Great Lakes area.

Yet an internal memo for task force members, dated Oct. 14 and coded "not for public distribution," says the meeting will occur Oct. 29-30 in Cleveland.

Whether intentional or accidental, a delay in public posting of this information certainly could prevent activist anglers from having adequate time to plan on attending.

And activist anglers have been busy lately, expressing their displeasure that the task force gave no consideration to the value of recreational angling in its Interim Report, released in mid-September.

That report is the first major step for establishing a federal strategy for managing the nation's oceans, coastal waters, and Great Lakes, as required in a memo from President Barack Obama on June 12.

As instructed by the President, the task force is to develop, "with appropriate public input, a recommended framework for effective coastal and marine spatial planning" by Dec. 9.

Especially in light of the task force's reluctance to acknowledge the importance and value of recreational angling, the fishing industry justifiably fears that public waters could be closed to sports as well as commercial fishing.

Angling advocates point out that "senior policy-level officials" on the task force seem inclined to ally themselves with preservationists and environmental extremists who want to create "no fishing" preserves, with no scientific justification.

And the directive to include the Great Lakes in the process opens the door to federal bureaucrats taking over management of inland fisheries as well.

"All of this is suspect. There really doesn't seem to be a true public input process," said Chris Horton, national conservation director for BASS. "If they had listened to us in the first place, they would have included recreational fishing in the report. They didn't."

Gordon Robertson of the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) added, "They just don't seem to understand the role of state fisheries agencies in management."

In hopes of helping them better understand, more than 10,000 anglers sent comments to the task force through ASA's KeepAmericaFishing.org web site before the Oct. 17 deadline.

Additionally, angling and industry groups responded.

On behalf of ASA, Robertson said the following:

"While we are by and large supportive of the intent of the Interim Report, the American Sportfishing Association 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.

"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."

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission, meanwhile, asked that the task force "explicitly acknowledge that a national approach is not intended to be a "nationalization" of natural resources."

And it added that the report "speaks little about value of fish and wildlife to the people of this country who rely on natural resources for food, income, and employment. The people of America have a deep connection to the outdoors, and the report misses many opportunities to express, explicitly, a major motivation for sound ocean policies — to benefit the people of this country for today and for future generations."

Its recommendations were as follows:

• The report acknowledge economic activities and jobs related to recreational and commercial fishing (in the Great Lakes basin alone, the fishery is worth more than $7 billion annually and supports tens of thousands of jobs);

• The report clarify the administration's intent to pursue a conservationist policy rather than a preservationist or restrictive policy; and

• The national policy recognize the deep connection Americans have with natural resources and imply that action plans developed through this process aimed to respect that heritage and protect needs of those engaged in fishing, hunting, and other recreational activities.

Additionally, say industry insiders, the task force should consider that commercial fishing accounts for 97 percent of fish harvested, with recreational angling taking just 3 percent.

They add that anglers need to keep their voices loud and the message coming, both through e-mails at KeepAmericaFishing.org and by attendance at the meetings in Cleveland.

"Oct. 17 was the deadline for sending e-mails to the Council on Environmental Quality (which leads the task force)," Robertson said. "But it's still really important to keep sending those e-mails. They will be forwarded to the members of Congress representing the people who wrote them. The more letters they get, the more they are likely to realize how important this is."

Horton concluded, "We all want to see healthy waters and strong fish populations, but we want to continue to be able to enjoy them as well. And we can't afford to lose all the valuable contributions that recreational anglers make to the resource."

For more information

Find out more about the battle for public waters at KeepAmericaFishing.org, a web site maintained by the American Sportfishing Association.

To learn more about the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force and its Interim Report, click here.