Fishing voice

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.

Recreational anglers seemed to have gained the attention of a key member of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco acknowledged their collective voice at the American Sportfishing Association's Sportfishing Summit on Oct. 27 in San Diego. Lubchenco is Undersecretary of Commerce and administrator of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, as well as one of the "senior policy-level officials" charged by President Barack Obama with developing a management policy for the nation's "oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes."

"As NOAA's administrator, I am committed to adopting policies that will ensure that current and future generations have the opportunity to enjoy this wonderful activity," Lubchenco said.

"We are responding to the concerns expressed by your leaders that we don't pay enough attention to recreational fishing. I'm here to tell you that we do think you are important, that we will pay attention, and that we will work with you. It is my intention to improve our relationship.

"I look forward to a new era of cooperative relations between NOAA and anglers across the country."

Since Obama organized the task force in June, angling advocates have feared that preservationists and environmental organizations, along with their allies in the Obama administration, will use this opportunity to orchestrate an aggressive campaign to close public waters to recreational angling. With the Great Lakes included in the directive, they could provide an opening for federal management — and closures to recreational fishing — on inland lakes and rivers as well.

An Interim Report released by the task force in September did nothing to allay fears. Although angling advocates spoke to administration officials about the social, scientific, and economic importance of recreational angling early in the process, the report made no reference to the popularity and importance of recreational fishing to Americans.

Instead, it spoke only of "overfishing" and "unsustainable fishing," implying that recreational anglers, who contribute much to the conservation of fisheries, and commercial fishermen, who have depleted ocean stocks, are one and the same.

"As an active participant in the task force process, I want to assure the recreational fishing community that this concern has been heard," Lubchenco said at the Summit. "The task force has now received significant input from anglers across the country.

"I am confident that when the task force releases its final report (mid December), your interests will be recognized."

Lubchenco added that she believes recreational fishing is "both an important pastime, which brings families and friends together, and an important economic activity.

"I am personally committed to a national policy that recognizes the importance of recreational fishing and ensures that it can continue to thrive."

ASA president and CEO Mike Nussman found her words assuring.

"We are encouraged by the remarks that Under Secretary Lubchenco gave at the 2009 Sportfishing Summit," he said. "Dr. Lubchenco told us that she will be our champion. We look forward to a new era of cooperative relations between NOAA and anglers across the country."

Chris Horton, national conservation director for BASS added, "They (Lubchenco's staff) seemed receptive, genuinely wanted to understand our concerns, and offered positive feedback.

"I left the meeting feeling guardedly optimistic."

That guarded optimism was a direct result of more than 10,000 anglers criticizing the direction of the task force through ASA's KeepAmericaFishing.org Web site. The Great Lakes Fisheries Commission and other organizations and associations also weighed in.

In speaking for its many members, ASA listed the following among its concerns about the Interim Report:

No distinction between recreational and commercial fishing. There is an inherent distinction between recreational and commercial fishing and their respective impact on the ocean environment. Recreational fishing accounts for only 3 percent of the national saltwater harvest. Members of the public who spend leisure time on the water fishing with family and friends are fundamentally different than commercial fishermen who pursue a public resource for the purpose of selling it.

Reliance on the use of precautionary principle. The precautionary principle is a complicated standard with a variety of facets that should not be mandated by law or executive order. It is another example of the draft policy failing to recognize the sustainable use of natural resources. Too often the precautionary principle is used as justification to ban such activities as recreational fishing, when the very definition of a sustainable activity argues against the use of the principle. Recreational fishing should be banned only when there is clear scientific evidence that it is the cause of depleted fish stocks or poor ocean habitat and only after traditional fishery-management measures have failed.

No affirmation of states' rights. State agencies always have had the right to manage state fish and wildlife resources within state lands and waters. It is reflected through the American Model of Fish and Wildlife Management and its user-pay/user-benefit system. This governance structure is greatly supported by ASA and others within the recreational fishing community. A national ocean policy should reaffirm the rights of states to retain this jurisdiction, as well as all other jurisdictions.

Lack of public comment in coordination framework. ASA supports increased coordination among the federal, state, and regional authorities that govern ocean, coastal and Great Lakes management. As part of any new coordination structure, these authorities must retain all current jurisdictions. The coordination framework outlined in the interim report, however, calls for seem-ingly countless reports and strategies, none of which will be open for public review and comment. Users of public resources must be provided the opportunity to comment on their management.

Will these concerns be addressed as the task force prepares its "recommended framework for effective coastal and marine spatial planning" to be released in December?

That framework is to provide "a comprehensive, integrated, ecosystem-based approach that addresses conservation, economic activity, user conflict, and sustainable use of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources consistent with international law, including customary international law as reflected in the 19872 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea."

Angling advocates are hopeful, but cautious.

"Dr. Lubchenco said that it is important to see what people do in addition to what they say, and she knows we will be paying attention," said Phil Morlock, director of environmental affairs for Shimano.

Horton added, "We've asked that they make recreational fishing a priority, but we're still not sure which way this will go. We do know that we have friends in Congress, on both sides of the aisle, who will ask tough questions if they need to. We can't afford to lose the contributions that anglers make to this 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.