The importance of fishing to our industry (Part 1)

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Regular readers know I love to fish – freshwater or saltwater, count me in. Accordingly, issues that negatively impact angler access get personal. Moreover, as an industry member, I readily see the extraordinary economic importance of fishing to the majority of marine dealers - reason enough to call attention to angling issues.

Fishing is boating’s financial anchor. Depending on the study source, we know more than half of all new boats sold will be used primarily for fishing, and up to 21 percent more of them will see an occasional angling activity. More specifically, a study by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF) and the non-profit Outdoor (Recreation) Foundation determined that of the 48 million anglers in the country, nearly 13 million or 33 percent own a boat. Even more notable is that of the 35 million who do not own a boat, a whopping 8.4 million said in the study they are considering buying a boat!

That said, we can’t take the future of fishing or its potential sales opportunities for granted. Fishing in saltwater as well as access to freshwater are issues in which our industry must become more engaged than ever. All is not good these days.

For example, saltwater fishing was dealt a terrible blow when the Magnuson-Stevens Act was reauthorized in 2006. The National Marine Fisheries Service claims amendments to MSA now requires they establish catch limits for all fish possibly “overfished” and to end “overfishing” by 2010 and 2011. It’s resulted in NMFS resorting to abrupt, Draconian fishery closures (gag grouper, red snapper, black sea bass, flounder, among others.)

The concept of “overfishing” is relatively simple: If a particular fish is caught in numbers that exceed the stocks ability to reproduce, it’s “overfished.” Here’s the rub - NMFS’s has failed to establish acceptable science-based programs to determine the true status of our saltwater fisheries. In other words, NMFS assessments of various stocks are suspect, likely unreliable and result in arbitrary closures. Moreover, the MSA simply doesn’t allow a more acceptable timetable for rebuilding fish stocks.

Last year, two bipartisan bills were introduced in Congress calling for modification of the limited timetable for rebuilding fish stocks where “overfishing” may be prevalent. None passed. But changing MSA is a must-do and the efforts to get it done must continue this Congressional session. NMFS must also make major improvements to its data collection so there can be genuine science-based management decisions in the future rather than resorting to hasty closures as the main management tool.

Hasty closures are just one issue facing fishing. Others include proposals for catch shares; prohibited access to freshwater fishing; Obama’s Ocean Policy Task Force, among others. More about these issues, plus who is “working” them for the boating industry and an expert’s opinion that “overfishing” is over – in Part II on Thursday in Dealer Outlook.

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