Monitoring the connection between boat sales and fish quotas might not seem like the most logical way to make a decision about building a new factory — unless you build fishing boats. Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boat Group, understood the relationship shortly after he started his Florida company.
“We were the Coastal Conservation Association’s first boat sponsor back in the 1980s when it was GCCA Florida,” Deal told Trade Only Today. “I understood early that it was important for our business to be involved in some way, shape or form in conservation efforts and advocacy for fishermen.”
Thirty years later, Deal has upped his commitment to advocacy for recreational anglers by participating in recent congressional hearings about the “Blue Economy.” Deal’s testimony in March before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation focused on three tenants to support the businesses and jobs in the boating industry. Deal called for an updated and robust national infrastructure, a clean and healthy environment, and sound fisheries management policy.
The last issue, sound fisheries management policy, was the subject of a 2014 white paper to Congress called the Morris-Deal Report, which Tracker Marine’s Johnny Morris and Deal co-authored with expert witnesses on the problems surrounding national fisheries management and policies. That led, in a circuitous way, to the passing of the Modern Fish Act last December. It is considered a signature victory for the boating industry and one of the most vital pieces of legislation for sport fishing.
“The report was a huge, time-consuming effort,” Deal said. “I’m not a scientist, so my contribution was to structure a vision statement by working with the top fisheries managers. I went to every meeting — there were about a dozen — and really wore the pavement out during the commission days and, later, trying to help with the Modern Fish Act.”
Deal has also met with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross multiple times over the last two years, fostering a relationship that helped with the passage of Modern Fish, while also helping the secretary grasp the economic impact of outdoor recreation. According to the Dept. of Commerce, outdoor recreation contributed more to the nation's GDP (2.2 percent) than chemical products manufacturing (2.1 percent), utilities (1.5 percent), mining (1.4 percent) and farming (1 percent) in 2016. It was the first year that the department measured outdoor recreation’s impact on the economy.
In a speech to the American Boating Congress on May 15, Ross noted his understanding of that impact. “The growth of the outdoor rec industry outpaced the entire U.S. economy,” he said. “I'm not breaking any news here when I say that there is nothing cheap about owning a boat, but it is well worth the cost.”
Ross oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA oversees the National Marine Fisheries Service, which dictates fishing rules for U.S. federal waters.
“My first meeting with Secretary Ross was not like any other politician I had met,” Deal told TCPalm.com regarding a 2017 meeting he attended in Washington, D.C., with other industry leaders. “He was very direct and blunt. He asked, ‘Why are you guys here? You guys want more fish, right?’ ”
Deal answered yes, but also said the boating and sportfishing industries “want an organization [NMFS] imbued with a sense of understanding of what recreational fishing is all about — a cultural heritage that is uniquely American and the economic impact that is all over the country. If they do that, and they do the math, the math will support us getting more fish. But right now, we have an agency that refuses to face the facts.”
“I'm a big fan of facts,” Deal said Ross replied, adding, “What would you do if you got more fish?”
Deal answered, “I'll open a new factory.”
Deal was not being glib. “We’d been debating about whether we wanted to invest in a new factory or not,” Deal said. “As a businessman, I needed some sort of clarity as to what the future was going to bring in terms of fisheries management and quotas. It has a direct impact on my business.”
The Obama administration, Deal said, had no coherent policy about fisheries management when it came to recreational anglers. “They treated recreational fishing like clubbing baby seals,” he said. “We had intentionally not expanded our business. So when I met Secretary Ross, I was 100 percent sincere. If you change the attitude of the Commerce Department, I will build my factory.”
Not long after the initial meeting between Ross and Deal, the National Marine Fisheries Service let states surrounding the Gulf of Mexico set their own red snapper regulations. Florida extended its 2018 Gulf season from 41 to 80 days.
So Deal built the factory in Fort Pierce. The 127,000-square-foot facility, which produces MBG’s larger Cobia and Pathfinder models, also involved doubling the workforce.
“I sent Ross a letter recounting our conversation and told him since he did his part, I did my part,” Deal told TCPalm. He brought 11-by-17-inch aerial photos of his new plant to his second meeting with Ross, in March.
“I asked him if he remembered, and he said, ‘Yeah, that decision got me sued by environmental groups,’ ” Deal told TCPalm. “I showed him the parking lot outside the building with a couple hundred cars in it of people who didn't have jobs before it opened. I told him, I'll bet those people are happy you got sued. I'm pretty sure they are on your side.”
Deal said the advocacy efforts by companies in the boating and fishing industries and organizations such as NMMA, CCA and ASA have paid off.
“What we have now, which we’ve never had in our history, is access to these decision-makers in Washington,” Deal said.
The sizable economic impact of recreational boating and fishing have also been used to influence congressional and administration decision-makers. According to NMMA and Center for Sportfishing Policy data, recreational boating and fishing have a $170.3 billion indirect economic impact; provide $41 billion in direct sales and services of boats and marine products; support 35,000 businesses and 690,000 jobs; and cater to 141 million boaters. About 95 percent of boats sold in the United States are produced domestically.
“I recall a meeting with the acting head of NOAA,” Deal said, “and he was blown away by those numbers. But, as an industry, we were also speaking with one voice.”
In addition to Deal and other boatbuilders, participants in the meeting included marine hardware manufacturers, resin suppliers, fiberglass companies, tackle manufacturers and other industry representatives. “We’d never had a unified voice for the industry,” Deal said. “That changed the game.”
Despite the passage of the Modern Fish Act and more favorable relationships with government agencies, Deal said the work is ongoing. He has long been concerned with environmental issues such as red tide in his home state of Florida. “We’re working hard to alleviate the nutrient-laden discharges into our coastal waters,” he said. “These issues don’t really go away. They tend to morph into different issues at different times.”
Deal told TCPalm that the industry needs to keep “messaging” our leaders. “They have to understand that the propellers for the outboard engines are made in Indiana. The resin for the fiberglass comes from Louisiana. There are makers of all the parts that go into these boats from all around the country. They help make the electrical wires to fiberglass to sandpaper.
“These are the tendrils of the supply chain that make up the Blue Economy,” he added, “and it's massive.”