Glenn Hughes, a veteran boating and fishing journalist, now heads industry relations for the American Sportfishing Association. The ASA has worked to unite the industry and advocate for fishing during the past 80 years.
Along with others in the recreational fishing lobby, the ASA has been chalking up victories, including the Obama administration’s decision to allow recreational fishing in newly established or expanded marine monuments while shutting down commercial fishing in those areas.
Hughes grew up fishing the lakes of Pennsylvania and along the Jersey Shore. He has lived for more than two decades in Florida and honed his fishing skills along the U.S. coastline and in Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
We asked him what it’s been like to make the leap from media to advocacy and to discuss the ASA agenda, particularly in light of the presidential election.
Q: You have a long history at marine publications, and I know some of that time was spent at the helm of Sport Fishing magazine. Can you tell us how that may have shaped your role now?
A: I earned an engineering degree from Penn State back in 1985 and started working for Boeing Helicopter three weeks later. Everyone should have a job they don’t like so they can find and appreciate a career that they can love. It took less than two years for me to change career paths and pursue my passions of fishing and boating.
Fortunately, Chris Donahower, my second cousin once removed, gave me my first opportunity with Power & Motoryacht magazine as brokerage sales manager in Stamford, Conn., in 1988. We started MotorBoat magazine, and Chris gave me the opportunity to run sales. It was a great experience for me because I learned so much about the fishing and boating industries, lived on my boat and met tremendous leaders around the country.
Q: Who were some of them?
A: I can remember lunches with the likes of Paul Perry Sr. when he was at Larson Boats in Minnesota and Earl Bentz when he was busy building 14,000 Stratos and Javelin boats in Tennessee. I was a 24-year-old punk they could have ignored, but they didn’t. They cared.
In 1991, Terry Snow, owner of World Publications, talked me into moving to Florida to become the advertising director of Sport Fishing magazine. The brand was only five years old and hemorrhaging money. I saw it as a great challenge. We were able to stabilize the business, and in 1992 Terry bought Marlin magazine, and in 1999, Fly-Fishing In Salt Waters. Terry allowed me to run these brands and start building a team with the same passion and dedication as me. My dear friend Dean Travis Clarke and I ran around the country, testing boats and fishing with the presidents and owners of the boat companies — a good gig if you can get it. Terry was a wonderful boss and mentor. An incredible entrepreneur and visionary, he cared about his brands and his people and was always a student of learning.
Bonnier bought into Terry’s business in 2006 to get into the U.S. market, and then Terry led the purchase of Time4 Media in 2007, which included SaltWater Sportsman, Motorboating and Yachting magazines. After a year I was handed the reins of these titles, and the Bonnier Marine Group was formed. I was also given leadership responsibilities over the sailing titles Cruising World and Sailing World. Soon we bought Boating and Flying magazines from Hachette. It certainly wasn’t about just print anymore. We had plenty of other brands and products, including Sportfishing Television, fishing tournaments in Bermuda, Cabo and Florida, iconic programs like Marlin University and websites for all.
Q: Can you give a little personal background? Where do you live now?
A: I was so blessed growing up outside Philadelphia with terrific parents and four siblings, including a twin brother. My folks bought a cottage on a lake in the Poconos in 1964, and my father lives there to this day. Our summers were spent fishing, skiing, boating, sailing, swimming, snorkeling and visiting the girls’ camp next door (laughs). I was the luckiest kid in the world.
I learned to fish from my dad, catching trout, bass, pickerel and perch and too many sunnies. As I got older I spent more time on the Jersey Shore and learned a few tricks regarding saltwater fishing. It really wasn’t until I took the job with Sport Fishing that I got full exposure to all that saltwater had to offer. And I tried to take every advantage.
Today, Beth, my very accommodating and forgiving wife of 25 years, and I reside in Annapolis, Md., where we enjoy the quintessential seaside town and some terrific striper, or rockfish, fishing. Our headquarters for ASA is in Alexandria, Va., so we can be close to D.C. and enjoy the views of the Potomac from the office. Our son Conor just graduated from Florida State University this year and is settling into a career in sport management.
Q: What made you decide to make the change? It’s a big switch to go from writing and publishing to advocacy.
A: The story that could be told by thousands in our marine and fishing industry — Terry decided to retire after his five-year contract with Bonnier was ending and the new CEO and I did not see eye to eye. Time for a new chapter in my life: the American Sportfishing Association.
Even though we had been exhibiting at ASA’s trade show, ICAST, since I started at Sport Fishing, I didn’t fully understand the scope of the work being done by the organization. Over time I realized that ASA had an enormous responsibility and influence across the sportfishing industry and I could see they needed help. I got involved through committees. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know and the more involved I became. When I was pushed out of Bonnier, ASA’s president, Mike Nussman, immediately asked if I’d be interested in helping the cause full time. It was time to give back to the industry that had given me so much.
Q: This seems like a big time in the fishing advocacy side of things. Can you talk about some recent strides, and goals for the future? I know you work closely with other groups, including the NMMA and the Center for Coastal Conservation. Can you talk about that coordinated effort and how that might be influencing things?
A: Fishing access and conservation will always be the main focus of our government affairs team and our Keep America Fishing advocacy arm. On access, we’re working with a variety of trade groups to provide a suite of recommendations to the new administration to reduce barriers to the public’s ability to access federal lands and waters. We’re also providing recommendations to NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] Fisheries and Congress on better ways to manage saltwater recreational fishing than the current approach, which takes a commercial fisheries management model and applies it to recreational fishing. In addition to continuing to fight the Biscayne marine reserve, we’ve also made a lot of progress on the marine monument front. While it’s unclear if President Trump will consider future marine monuments, we have a good precedent in place of allowing for recreational fishing.
Regarding conservation, we are fighting to maintain necessary water flows for California salmon. Also supporting congressional action to authorize the National Fish Habitat Partnership, which is a national program to coordinate fisheries conservation efforts, starting at the local level. There are several other issues in Florida, including Everglades restoration, that require thoughtful strategy and collective support from organizations like the Army Corps of Engineers to achieve success. These programs have been going on for many years and will continue for decades. We also continue to lead the FishSmart effort and provide industry leadership to improve the survival of caught and released fish.
Q: Can you talk about the recently passed legislation to include outdoor recreation in the GDP? It seems like the industry is racking up these victories in helping elected officials see the economic impact of fishing and boating.
A: The REC Act will ensure that outdoor recreation jobs are counted by the federal government and measured as part of the overall GDP for the first time. Federal statistics in this area will potentially help provide greater influence over federal and local recreation policy in a way that understands and appreciates the significant role outdoor recreation plays in the economy at the local, state and national levels.
Q: How are different outdoor recreation industries working together on this front?
A: The idea is that the outdoor recreation market is worth $646 billion, or that’s how it’s been declared. I’m a numbers guy, and a little hesitant to talk about billions and billions of dollars. Congress hears those numbers all the time. So we have been working directly with other outdoor recreational organizations, including the NMMA, but also even the RV and motorcycle industries, to create a group. The idea is to create papers designed to emphasize the outdoor recreation industries for Trump’s transition team. We will be presenting some of those findings in the next few weeks. We’re providing six documents that show value, demonstrate our needs and what we expect from the Trump team.
Q: Can you touch on ICAST (the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades)? That show is growing quickly. What’s driving that?
A: ICAST is the largest fishing tackle show in the world. Even after 25 years of attending, I am still a kid in a candy store, admiring all the new products and in awe of the leaders and visionaries who have committed their careers to fishing. Remember that ICAST is owned by the membership of ASA and there is a true commitment to ensure the show remains relevant for the exhibitors, as well as the buyers and the media. The show has enjoyed controlled growth over the last several years, as we have sold out the show floor early and focused our efforts on attracting more buyers and retailers.
Florida is the No. 1 market for fishing, and keeping the show in Orlando has actually supported our growth with more focus on the product and the ability to add other elements. Some of these additions are On The Water demo day, the Bass and Birdies golf tournament put on by Florida Sportsman and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the ICAST Cup bass fishing tournament produced by [Fishing League Worldwide]. We also have the fly-fishing industry, AFFTA, co-locating their IFTD trade show with us, which attracts a base of fly-tackle retailers. In 2016 we began a new partnership with our good friends at the NMMA. Now we feature the Marine Accessories Pavilion, which attracts more boating and marine retailers. And now, with our new trade show director, Blake Swango, we look forward to continuing to provide an exceptional value to all who attend. If you are in the fishing business, you must be at ICAST.
Q: The ASA has been doing some studies about fishing trends. Can you talk about those? What are some of the findings that are shaping your efforts?
A: Recent studies show that fishing is flat or somewhat on the decline, especially among kids. Fishing licenses across the nation have leveled off to under 30 million, and we have not done a good job of getting more diverse audiences involved. Because of everything from technology to parents afraid to let their kids outdoors, recreational activities like fishing are taking a back seat. The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, led by Frank Peterson, has put forth an impressive plan called ‘60 in 60.’ The goal is to increase fishing participation from 46 million anglers to 60 million in the next 60 months. Using R3 to focus on recruitment, retention and reactivation, we are able to target audiences and develop programs. ASA’s role is manifold. We need to attract new and non-anglers to our sport through policy changes, at state and federal parks, and through our industry. Whether you are a manufacturer, retailer, in the media or other, we all have a responsibility to engage the entire sportfishing community.
Q: Do you want to just follow up on a piece of it?
A: We’re doing a lot more research because the concern is the industry is flat and not replacing itself with the same number of kids. We’re sharing that information with the industry. Manufacturers make stuff and sell stuff. They don’t do much on increasing participation.
Part of that is awareness. We’ve been working on that for about a year and a half now — convincing them we’ve got to probably stop selling widgets and start selling the experience and lifestyle, and the joy of fishing and boating.
Manufacturers, retailers, media, guides and captains and mates, as well as associations, they have a responsibility to gather and share information and work with the statistics on issues of fishing licenses and promotion, then work with federal, fishing wildlife services, state parks, and so forth, to make sure there is access.
On the industry side, we spend more time working on talking to our 830 members on what they can do to promote the lifestyle. They can probably support more product demos and offer more events where they’re teaching kids to fish, and retailers need to spend more time promoting opportunities for people to come into the shop and learn how to fish. When they provide product demos, they can make sure people are getting fishing licenses. They need to engage these people on a more regular basis.
The media has a larger role than anybody. In fishing media, we spend time on avids — people who’ve been fishing their entire lives. That tends to be where the money is, and they do have a responsibility to also talk about their love of fishing and take other people fishing. They need to make sure they take aunts, uncles, kids and kids’ friends fishing with them.
Q: A whole new administration! I imagine in some ways, this is potentially good news for the industry. That said, it can be a scramble to get all the new folks in office up to speed on the issues. Can you discuss that process?
A: ASA is identifying contacts in the transition team and actively working to promote policy ideas — which we’ve identified in various reports, including the CCC document and the reports the outdoor industry groups are producing — and potential personnel to fill appointments in federal agencies that work on our issues. We’re optimistic that a Trump administration will be supportive of recreational fishing and want to make necessary changes in federal policy to promote fishing access, conservation and growing the sport.
Q: You head up industry relations. Can you talk about that role and how that helps to keep industry issues on the radar?
A: Mike Nussman brought me in to help run the ASA business and to educate and engage the sportfishing community on the issues. Besides working with a great team on ICAST, membership, KeepAmericaFishing, Keep Florida Fishing and government affairs, I communicate with the fishing and boating markets and other outdoor recreation industries.
It’s important that we hear not just both sides, but all sides of the issues we face. There are usually more than two. I try to be a good listener, understand the situation, work with our team on solutions and provide a reasonable and pragmatic approach with the others involved. We then share the information through our many communication channels, especially KeepAmericaFishing.
Q: Involvement, momentum, challenges — how involved are people in the industry today? Is that changing? Do you think people are coming to better understand how their involvement can help shape policies? Where’s the momentum been? What are some of the industry’s biggest challenges you see going forward?
A: I’d like to think that ASA is finally getting some credit for the great work that Mike and his team have been doing for so many years. With more awareness and better understanding, more people and companies have gotten involved and are participating with us at our Sportfishing Summit and throughout the year to improve business, increase participation and support fisheries management. The 80-20 rule is alive and well, as 80 percent of the market is enjoying the labor and dedication of the 20 percent who put in the extra time and money to support the entire market. We’ll need greater participation going forward to face the many battles ahead.
Our issues will vary from trying to maintain sustainable fisheries to fighting back against those that don’t think we should be allowed to fish at all. Ultimately we will continue to support the best interests of our sportfishing industry, anglers and the fish while trying to grow participation. We can do it, but we need everyone’s help.
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue.