Feds meddling with access

Federally mandated no-fishing zones could soon be popping up in the Great Lakes and many other freshwater fisheries. 

Just imagine, you pull up on a boat ramp on Lake Erie and discover a large map of the lake that has enough shaded blocks to play checkers. Those shaded blocks represent areas closed to fishing, and your favorite rockpile — that you've been daydreaming about dragging a tube over for the last month — is under one of those blocks.

Sound unlikely? Freshwater anglers have been warned that, in the not-too-distant future, marine sanctuaries and the general protectionism philosophies plaguing our recreational saltwater brethren were coming our way. Well, the future has arrived, and it is time to pay attention.

"BASS members and every angler in America should be very concerned over the dramatic implications for recreational fishing access and management nationwide that are being proposed by the White House Council on Environmental Quality. This policy extends into the Great Lakes and the inland watersheds that flow into the oceans, which, of course, includes every river, stream and most lakes and reservoirs in America," said Phil Morlock, director of environmental affairs for Shimano Corp.

The American Sportfishing Association has similar concerns. "Anglers in the heartland may think this is just about saltwater, but it's not. This is a policy that will ultimately influence all our nation's bodies of water, state and federal. Now is the time to step up and ensure that recreational fishing has its rightful place in the policy process," said Gordon Robertson, vice president of ASA.

Flying in under the radar screen for most anglers, saltwater or fresh, President Obama created an Interagency Oceans Task Force with the objective of establishing a national policy to govern the management and use of our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes. Within this objective is the development of a framework for setting aside blocks of water for various uses. Never before have freshwater systems like the Great Lakes been discussed in the context of "spatial zoning." Yet it's there in black and white in the task force's interim report. It's the first real segue of federal no-fishing zones into the bass angler's living room.

Despite both a face-to-face meeting between representatives of recreational anglers and the Council on Environmental Quality (the lead federal agency for the task force), and a follow-up with written comments in the initial phase of the process, none of the comments from the recreational community were incorporated in the interim report. And there doesn't appear to be any intention of doing so. As an angler, that should be both frustrating and alarming.

"There are over 133,600 BASS members in the states bordering the Great Lakes. Obviously, they have a huge stake in this. Yet, as of now, the federal government doesn't appear to be interested in what they have to say. Unlike other administrations, this one seems to have dismissed the angling community altogether, at least to this point. We need that to change, and fast," said Chris Horton, conservation director for BASS.

Like all Americans, anglers want healthy oceans, estuaries and freshwater lakes and rivers. In fact, they're often the first to raise awareness of problems, first to pick up a shovel to help or open their wallets to fund a solution.

Anglers were among the nation's first and foremost conservationists. Through voluntary excise taxes on sportfishing equipment, anglers have contributed more than $5 billon for fisheries management to date. Yet, these contributions have yet to be acknowledged by either the CEQ or in the task force's interim report. They most certainly aren't aware of, nor can they possibly appreciate, the countless hours of sweat equity that anglers have contributed through on-the-ground projects to enhance our fisheries and habitat across the country. Without question, anglers have earned the right to have a say in what happens with their resource and their ability to enjoy that resource.

"Not only did the task force essentially ignore the detailed input from the recreational fishing community in their report, they also failed to acknowledge the significant number of jobs and the economy, which is supported by over 60 million Americans who fish," said Morlock.

Like most federal documents, the interim report may seem overwhelming and somewhat confusing. However, those who deal with federal agencies and represent the angling community in Washington clearly see the warning signals. Here are some of the most pertinent questions:

  • Why does the federal government refuse to separate recreational anglers from commercial fishing when the impacts on the resource are vastly different?

  • Why the rush to get such an overwhelming policy done in 180 days?

  • The document repeatedly mentions the need for the U.S. to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. What jurisdictional ramifications does that have for fisheries management in waters currently managed by the U.S.?

  • What implications do this policy and the UNCLOS have for all inland fresh waters?

  • Even though it was listed in the president's directive memo, why does the interim report shy away from sustainable use objectives?

  • State natural resource agencies have done a great job of managing our fisheries resources in the Great Lakes. What justification does the federal government have to interfere?

  • Finally, why is there no congressional oversight in a process that will obviously affect millions of Americans?

Anglers have an opportunity to change the process and ensure these questions are addressed.

"This policy strikes at the fundamental issue that concerns all anglers and should concern all people who enjoy time on the water, which is access to our nation's public resources. It is crucial that anglers speak up and let the White House and their members of Congress know that they have serious concerns with any policy that excludes recreational fishing, thereby ignoring the tremendous conservation legacy that anglers have on this country's economy and culture," said Robertson.

In order to ensure that a meaningful, transparent public process will give direction to the federal government as they determine the future of our angling heritage, Congress will have to step in. Currently, that process is virtually nonexistent. As one of the largest constituencies for any member of Congress, anglers have the ability to get them involved, and Congress will — if they hear from enough folks out there.

Go to www.keepamericafishing.org and send a message to the CEQ and Congress that anglers have earned the right for our voices to be heard and for our angling heritage to be preserved in perpetuity.

President John F. Kennedy once said, "One person can make a difference, and everyone should try."