The third annual Kenai Classic Roundtable brought together stakeholders from all segments of the recreational fishing community on Aug. 19 to look at the 20-year future of recreational fishing.
Recreational fishing industry leaders discussed many potential challenges during the 2-1/2-hour event at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Alaska and ultimately put forward a vision of growth for the recreational fishing community.
Panelists focused on the value of anglers as the economic drivers of the “user pays, public benefits” system of American conservation funding.
Through license fees, excise taxes on tackle and boating equipment and private donations, anglers contribute more than $1.5 billion annually to aquatic habitat restoration projects, a number that far exceeds any other user group.
These contributions, in conjunction with the manpower contributions that anglers provide as volunteers on habitat restorations projects, provided a message that resonated with the legislators in attendance.
“The perspective that this roundtable [lends] to where we’re going with sportfishing — not only here in the state of Alaska, but nationwide — is an important one,” U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, co-chairwoman of the Senate Oceans Caucus, said in a statement. “We know that here within this region this economy booms when fishing is strong … it allows us to have the economic base that is meaningful and significant, so that economic benefit is there.”
Murkowski joined Joe Balash, chief of staff for Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and a panel that focused on a long-term view of recreational fishing and the strategies necessary to ensure continued growth of the sport. Together the panel put forward a vision in which recreational anglers are given appropriate consideration under the law in line with their cultural, economic and conservation effects.
The panel signaled a change in strategy for the growing recreational fishing coalition, one that presents a unified front for communication, advocacy and lobbying in order to better protect American anglers.
“Each panelist drove home the consistent theme of unity for our industry,” said Martin Peters, the panel’s moderator and the government relations manager for Yamaha Marine Group. “Unity among anglers. Unity among sportsmen. And ultimately, unity among all users of America’s waterways, regardless of how they fish, where they fish or why they fish.”
The panel’s championing of recreational anglers did not come at the expense of any other marine user group. In fact, the panel’s discussion culminated in Peters’ closing remarks, as he called for stakeholders to come together in pursuit of common benefits.
“If I were offering my advice and counsel to anyone engaged in issues surrounding recreational fisheries, I would advise them to pursue a mutual gains approach to resolving the problem,” he said, “and I think that we recreational anglers should sit down with commercial anglers, and that would be my hope for the next 20 years.”