On April 16-17, 2010 the Administrator of NOAA Dr. Jane Lubchenco and Eric Schwaab head of NMFS hosted the Saltwater Recreational Fishing Summit in Alexandria, Virginia. Over 100 leaders from the recreational fishing community attended to convey the needs of our community to our government officials. Success or failure of this effort can only be determined over time by future actions of NOAA and NMFS. As the Chairman of the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) Government Affairs Committee and Co-Chair of the International Gamefish Association (IGFA) Fisheries and Conservation Committee, I was asked to speak on the importance of Angler Access. The following are those remarks:
“Public access to the public marine resource is critical for both practical and emotional reasons. On the practical side is the loss of opportunity caused by restricting access, which is greater than meets the eye. Closed areas typically target the best habitat locations. That is where the fish are, so that is where fishermen need to be to catch them. Leaving for example even 95% of a given area open and preventing access in the other 5% that contains the good habitat can easily reduce fishing success by 50%, 60%, 70% or more. If you don’t understand fish and fishing 5% is no big deal. If you are an angler you understand that it can mean the difference between success and failure.
When we lose access, the resource suffers because it loses its most important supporters. Anglers contributed over $604 million in 2009 for fishing license fees and an additional over $700 million in excise taxes on fishing tackle and motor boat fuels. These monies provide the backbone of funding for fishery resource management efforts in the states. Over the last half century anglers have contributed over $30 billion to resource management. What group will replace those dollars if the unintended consequence of restricting access causes anglers to stop fishing and buying licenses and fishing tackle? If anglers are forced off the water, who will replace that data source for catch, biological and economic information?
Another reason angler access is critical is that it helps support an important economic contribution. The 13 million saltwater anglers in the US generate 533,000 jobs and contribute $82.2 Billion to the nation’s economy. Most important for the resource, this economic benefit is generated by taking only 3% of the US harvest while the commercial sector takes the other 97% and at the same time provides fewer jobs. A major frustration in our community is that there seems to be a growing trend of not recognizing these important angler contributions to the economy and the resource. Recent evidence of this trend can be seen by what is now transpiring in California with excessive no fishing zones, it can be seen by President Obama’s draft report of the national ocean policy, and can be seen by draconian fishery management measures under Magnuson-Stevens. We are not the enemy of the resource. We are its most important supporters and that should be recognized. NOAA needs to follow the lead of the Department of Interior by recognizing the benefits & value of the recreational fishing community and give us access priority with ocean policy.
Earlier I mentioned that to understand the angler access issue you also need to understand the emotional and personal factor. While it is true that we must catch fish to have a valuable fishing experience, fishing is about the family. It is a relationship activity passed down typically from father or grandfather to son or daughter. Everybody in this room who fishes can think not only of the moment, but the exact spot where you had a memorable fishing experience with a family member or friend. Right now where you sit take a second to think about it. I see some smiles. That means many of you can already see that spot in your mind. To the rest of the world that location may not be so different from another, but to you it is part of your experiences and part of your quality of life.
I understand first hand this emotional issue with access restrictions. I live in Laguna Beach California where the environmentalists are on pace to eliminate all fishing (even catch and release) for 5 of the 7 miles of my cities’ coast line from the shore out to about 3 miles. This stretch is the best habitat in all of Orange County. I fish and dive 30-40 days a year from my kayak right in the middle of the area that is about to be closed. When the environmentalists tell me it is no big deal you can just go fish someplace else, I think of the spot where my son caught his first legal halibut. I think of hundreds of other memories and all I can do other then scream in frustration is to simply shake my head and walk away knowing I can’t make them understand because their experience with the ocean is so different than mine. Theirs comes mainly from reading books or looking at maps, photos or TV. Mine comes from real on the water experiences which translates into memories I cherish.
The vast majority of anglers are not against all closures. What we are against is restricting our access without a significant proven fishery benefit to overcome our personal loss and the loss to the resource and the economy. We are against closures put in place without proper data to support them and without considering the socioeconomic consequences. The ocean is a public resource and the fishing public deserves to receive the highest priority for its future use.