The marine industry cranked up its collective voice this year in the nation’s capital, with the 2015 American Boating Congress drawing more than 250 attendees with the support of a record 35 co-hosts.
Attendance has grown steadily during the past three years. Last year, about 225 people came to Washington and about 200 participated in 2013, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
ABC drew “one of the most diverse crowds of attendees we’ve seen yet that made significant strides toward positive change within many issue areas,” NMMA president Thom Dammrich told Trade Only a few days after the three-day event concluded at the Renaissance Marriott in downtown D.C. “Whether it was having meaningful one-on-one conversations around economic impact with members of Congress to dispel any myths about what this industry represents or simply educating themselves on an issue that may not be as familiar, like our evolving relations with Cuba, this group exceeded our goal for the event.”
That goal, in sum, was “informing and influencing the decisions surrounding policy related to boating in order to secure a brighter, healthier future for the industry,” Dammrich says.
About 25 co-hosts participated in last year’s event, and 14 the year before. “The co-hosts don’t just put their name on this,” Dammrich says. “They participate in regular conference calls and are actively involved in planning the event and promoting the event to their members to bring more people to ABC.”
As the co-host program started to grow each year, the NMMA implemented more tactics for each organization to take on as part of an overall marketing and promotions strategy, says Lauren Hill, NMMA senior public relations manager. Co-hosts’ duties included distributing a direct email to their membership, encouraging attendance (including through social media), and incorporating at least two ABC updates and highlights into internal and external print and Web-based newsletters.
ABC attendees made the most of their time in Washington with 400 “Hill visits” over three days with lawmakers and their staffs to push the industry’s interests.
A number of awards were given out, including the annual Eddie Smith Manufacturer of the Year Award, the ABC Ambassador of the Year Award and the ABC Lifetime Achievement Award.
The industry comes to Washington, D.C., to be heard collectively, but individual segments must state their case, as well, Dammrich says. “Our industry is like an ecosystem, made up of many different parts, but we are all interrelated, and anything that adversely affects one segment … is eventually going to impact the whole ecosystem,” he says.
Word of mouth helps ABC grow every year, says NMMA executive committee chairwoman Joan Maxwell. Speaking on the last day of the event, Maxwell urged members to invite another advocate to next year’s ABC. The trip to Washington will lead to good things, she says.
“We’ve had two congressional visits and one senatorial visit to Regulator Marine,” says Maxwell, whose company is in Edenton, N.C. “That wouldn’t have happened without our presence here.”
The NMMA tries to recognize its members who talk up ABC — so much so that it gives out an Ambassador Award. This year it went to the Yacht Brokers Association of America and was accepted by YBAA executive director Vin Petrella. This is the second year the award has been given; the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas received it last year.
“[The YBAA] reached hundreds daily and thousands weekly through their newsletter and emails; their digital marketing [about] ABC included postings on social media,” Dammrich said. “There were bulk email campaigns and countless press releases posted to their website.”
The industry is working on a number of issues, including U.S. flagging regulations for superyachts, the developments in Cuba, invasive species and relations between the Coast Guard and the industry. But five issues stand out as the legislative priorities. “These are issues we want to be talking to Congress about,” Dammrich says.
The issues: fuel and changes to the renewable fuel policy (to prevent E15); recreational fishing (and changes to the Magnuson-Stevens
Fishery Conservation and Management Act); the reauthorization of the Sportfish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund; boating access; and tax reform.
“We need to make sure, as they reform the tax bill, boating is not unfairly singled out for some adverse action related to tax reform,” Dammrich says.
The NMMA also armed ABC attendees with an infographics one-page handout that helped them drive home their points to lawmakers about the economic significance of recreational boating. The handouts were offered in three types to highlight national, state and district economic effects.
Ten speakers from outside the sponsoring organizations participated, including keynoter David Gregory, the former “Meet the Press” host; U.S. Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), co-chairwoman of the Congressional Boating Caucus; Miami mayor Tomas Regalado; and NOAA’s assistant administrator for fisheries, Eileen Sobeck.
Only 60 days after presenting the first-ever national saltwater recreational fisheries policy, Sobeck at ABC introduced the agency’s accompanying implementation plan to the marine industry, marking a “cultural shift” at NOAA to better recognize the importance of the recreational fishing community.
“There was a perception that … there was a bias in the agency favoring commercial fishing and not really giving adequate consideration to saltwater recreational fishing interests,” Sobeck told boating and fishing representatives May 12. “But it is clear that both elements are very important. The policy is our pledge as an agency to at every step take into account all relevant interests in both the commercial and recreational communities.”
Sobeck presented the policy at the Miami International Boat Show in February and announced it on April 13. The policy and plan are in response to requests in the report titled “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries” by Bass Pro Shops founder and CEO Johnny Morris and Maverick Boats president Scott Deal. “We have taken this report very seriously,” she says.
“We are not going to promise outcomes … but we need to consider the interest and views of our recreational partners and stakeholders, and not at the last minute after we have already developed positions,” Sobeck says.
She says the next step is to implement plans in five regional areas, and she cited the recreational fishing community’s role in major conservation gains during the past decade.
Dammrich presented the ABC Lifetime Achievement Award to Miller. “There is no greater friend in Congress than Candice Miller,” he says.
Miller, serving her seventh term after first being elected in 2002, received the award in a packed ballroom of more than 100 ABC attendees. “I feel like I am at the Oscars,” says Miller, a sailor who says her family owns a small powerboat. “It is great that you are here in Washington. It is critical; it is our system; it’s democracy. The only way it works is if you engage.”
Miller says she grew up in a marina business in a boating family and thought she would be in the marina business all her life. She emphasizes that she knows the value of boating to local and state economies.
Bill Shedd, president and CEO of AFTCO, the American Fish and Tackle Co., won the Eddie Smith Manufacturer of the Year Award, given by the Center for Coastal Conservation to leaders in conservation advocacy. “Bill Shedd is quite simply one of the finest people I know,” says Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “He still volunteers 500 hours a year and is involved in every aspect of marine conservation.”
The award is named in honor of Eddie Smith Jr., the longtime owner of Grady-White Boats and a pioneer and advocate for marine conservation.
U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), was recognized by the States Organization for Boating Access for promoting access in Virginia and nationwide and supporting the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
“It’s an ongoing process; we are still making adjustments to the bill,” Wittman says, adding that he wants to be sure “good science” is behind the legislation. “Science needs to drive this policy,” he says.
Wittman commented on the federal budget adoption process. “You don’t go on vacation until all the work is done,” he says, sparking applause. However, he did say the budget process is “better this year with staying on track.
“The best thing the government can do is get out of the way,” he says.
This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue.