In Washington, whose report will they listen to?

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There’s no place on the globe that can send out more mixed signals than Washington DC. More specifically, I’m referring to the nation’s fishing and boating picture.

On the one hand, President Obama’s recently formed Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force has already called for creation of a National Ocean Council with sole authority over virtually all aspects of U.S. ocean policy. Moreover, the task force is about to issue final recommendations that will call for, among other things, Maritime Spatial Planning (translation: zoning) of coastal and Great Lakes waters.

The fear of America’s boaters and anglers is that this could all result in “zoning gone wild” with more no-take and/or no-fishing zones covering larger and larger areas. It’s already happening in California. Notably, the White House denies any such intention, but the task force certainly indicated otherwise early on.

On the other hand, the administration has just announced appointments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council. The Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, has named five good representatives of boating to the SFBPC. They include: Thom Dammrich, NMMA president; John Sprague from the Marine Industry Association of Florida; Ned Dikmen, founder and chairman of the Great Lakes Boating Federation; Ryck Lydecker of BoatU.S.; and James Adams of States Organization for Boating Access. Congratulations to all!

These are very strong appointments for our industry and I’d like to believe it signals the administration’s positive view of boating and fishing access. Interestingly, the SFBPC, first created by President Clinton, is to advise on matters that will "conserve, restore, and enhance the quality, function, sustainable productivity, and distribution of aquatic resources that support and increase recreational fishing opportunities nationwide, and to increase public awareness of the importance of aquatic resources and the social and economic benefits of recreational fishing and boating."

In fact, previously, the SFBPC, under the Bush administration, named access as one of its top strategic issues. It cited establishing no-fishing or no-take marine areas as restricting the use of publicly managed aquatic resources by the boating and angling public. Moreover, the SFBPC indicated concern, along with the boating and angling community, that no-take and no-fishing areas were being established with minimal scientific evidence. These and similar concerns were submitted by the SFBPC to the incoming Obama administration during the transition.

What’s interesting now is that these two groups -- the task force and SFBPC, both now appointed by the current administration -- could find themselves pulling the White House in opposite directions. After all, taking away a man’s opportunity to fish is a very volatile issue. But, if nothing else is clear right now, one thing is certain: For the boating industry, having such strong representation on SFBPC could go a long way to ensuring our interests are vocal and seated at the table if and when decisions about future access are being made. The question is: whose report will they buy. We’ll stay tuned!

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