Bypass plan

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.

Environmental groups enthusiastically support federal management of our fisheries, starting with the oceans, coastal waters and the Great Lakes.

They now are pressuring President Barack Obama to bypass Congressional oversight and public discussion and instead issue an Executive Order endorsing the recommendations of his Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force and the creation of a massive federal bureaucracy.

Members in many of these organizations favor creation of "marine protected areas," where all uses — including recreational angling — are banned.

Almost certainly they envision these being an integral part of the "spatial planning" strategy created by the task force and to be enforced by a National Ocean Council.

These same groups produced a "wish list" document, Transition to Green, shortly after Obama's election. And what has happened since, starting with the President's creation of the task force, suggests that this special interest group — with little to no public input — could have a large say in controlling public policy.

Here are a couple of excerpts from Transition to Green that show a clear connection with the Interim Report and Interim Framework for Effective Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning produced by the task force:

"Under the new Administration, NOAA (National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration) should support legislation and initiatives to promote a coordinated, cross Federal and State agency, systematic approach to protecting, maintaining, and restoring marine ecosystem health and resilience.

"This type of 'whole ocean' ecosystem approach could be pursued through a variety of administrative and legislative vehicles and conservation tools, including the establishment and implementation of a national ocean policy to protect, maintain, and restore marine ecosystem health and resilience, and the creation of Federal-state partnerships directed to implement priority needs under such a policy. This could enhance the effectiveness of marine spatial as a critical tool for promoting ocean health and resilience ...

"Well-designed protected areas are a proven method of protecting and restoring habitat and the diversity, resilience and productivity of marine life and promoting overall ocean health. These areas can also improve scientific understanding of marine functions.

"Establishing a domestic and international system of marine protected areas is critical in the face of mounting cumulative pressures from fishing, pollution, coastal and ocean development and industrialization, climate change, and ocean acidification."

Additionally, Jane Lubchenco, NOAA administrator, is one of the most powerful members of the task force, made up of "high-level" government officials.

While she possesses impressive academic and professional credentials as a marine biologist, she also has close ties to those who produced the November document. For example, she was a trustee of the Environmental Defense Fund, and served on the Pew Oceans Commission."

In 2001, the New York Times reported this about the parent group of the latter:

"From a suite of offices in a high-rise here, a $4.8 billion foundation called the Pew Charitable Trusts has quietly become not only the largest grant maker to environmental causes, but also one that controls much more than the purse strings.

"Unlike many philanthropies that give to conservationist groups, Pew has been anything but hands-off, serving as the behind-the-scenes architect of highly visible recent campaigns to preserve national forests and combat global warming."

While no one in this constituency has said anything, at least publically, about banning recreational fishing in U.S. waters, members are at best indifferent to its importance socially and economically, as well as its contributions to conservation. Instead, many view people as trespassers in nature, instead of part of nature. They want pristine preservation instead of conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.

And that philosophy by a group attempting to develop public policy is, indeed, a threat to the future of recreational angling. It is especially so in light of the fact that confidential sources suggest that an Executive Order empowering the National Ocean Council might have been drafted — although not released — even before the latest public comment period ended.

Recreational angling is enjoyed annually by an estimated 60 million Americans, most of whom are good stewards of the resource. They contribute hundreds of millions of dollars for fisheries' conservation through license fees and excise taxes. They want to see pollution reduced, commercial by-catch eliminated, and aquatic habitats better protected.

But the economy and jobs are most on the mind these days, and needlessly denying anglers access to public waters would be in direct contradiction to the federal government's insistence that it is working hard to improve the former and increase the latter.

"Saltwater recreational fishing alone is worth $82 billion a year and supports nearly 34,000 jobs," said Gordon Robertson of the American Sportfishing Association. "If policies are enacted that restrict access, clearly this will harm local economies and jobs. Take away recreational fishing in some places and communities will cease to exist."

Overall, recreational angling generates more than $45 billion in retail sales annually, with a $125 billion impact on the nation's economy, creating employment for more than one million people. According to ASA, if fishing were a corporation, it would have ranked 47th on the 2007 Fortune 500 list, ahead of Microsoft and Time Warner.

The argument that people still would visit marine protected areas if recreational angling is not allowed doesn't hold water economically, many say.

"Fishing has a high cost compared to other activities, with money spent for travel and equipment," Robertson added. "It would take almost four wildlife viewing trips to equal the travel-related economic value of one fishing trip for a local community."

In 2006, the average California angler spent $1,396 annually for travel and equipment, while the average wildlife viewer spent $641, according to Southwick Associates, a survey and polling company specializing in the outdoors. Because of the state's Marine Life Protection Act, many coastal waters already have been lost to recreational anglers.

"To maintain economic impacts, more than two new wildlife viewers will be needed to replace each lost angler," Southwick said. "Considering there are currently no road blocks to wildlife viewing in California, creating new fish and wildlife viewers may be a difficult proposition."

But while recreational anglers have a huge economic impact, leaders are rallying them to get an equal voice.

"It's difficult to get anglers to wake up and take action," Robertson said. "Environmental groups are pressuring the President for that Executive Order. We have to make our voice heard as well."

To voice your support for recreational fishing, go to the KeepAmericaFishing.org Web site and send a letter to President Obama, your elected representatives, and members of the task force.