Fisheries leaders long have known that successful advocacy depends on economic justification. They recognize that recreational fishing’s worth must be proven by the numbers to state and federal decision-makers who authorize and appropriate funds for fisheries and conservation programs.
I understand and support that strategy. Recreational fishing generates more than $125 billion annually in economic output and more than one million jobs. It clearly is worth the money that we invest in it, and that is something that politicians understand.
But you and I both know that angling’s intrinsic value is what keeps us going to the lakes, rivers, and oceans. We fish for fun, to relax, to compete, and to spend quality time with friends and family. We fish to forget. And we fish to remember. We fish to lower our blood pressure. And we fish to raise our adrenaline.
Did you know, though, that fishing also is magic? That probably doesn’t mean much to the politicians who control the purse strings, but parents and volunteers will tell you that fishing works in ways that we can’t quantify to enrich the lives of millions who endure illness, injury and disability. As much as we might think angling means to us, both economically and inherently, it can mean even more to them.
“Fishing and other outdoor activities are a diversion from the reality that they have life-threatening illnesses,” says Gene Gilliland, a B.A.S.S. member who helps organize an annual day on the water for children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses at Camp Cavett on Lake Texoma.
“This gives them a chance to be a kid again. It’s amazing how fired up they get to go for a ride in the boat and to go fishing.””
Fishing makes a difference, too, for war veterans who have been wounded and are struggling to adjust to the new reality of their civilian lives.
“We see the benefits over and over,” reports Heroes on the Water, an organization that takes injured warriors fishing in kayaks. It adds, however, that “the rehabilitation aspect was an unintended consequence of helping injured service members.”
Realization of that aspect of the magic occurred with a veteran suffering from traumatic brain injury. He stuttered, would not talk, and wanted to be left alone. He had to be persuaded to get in a kayak for a four-hour outing.
“When we were helping him out, we asked how his morning was,” Heroes says. “For 30 seconds, he was jabbering away, talking about how great kayaking was, how he caught five fish, and how he really enjoyed the time on the water.
“Then he --- and we --- realized he was talking normally.”
For the first time in two years.
The stuttering eventually returned, but the soldier said, ‘Now I know I can do it (speak normally). Now I have hope.”
Fishing and other outdoor activities provide hope for children with autism as well.
“What I’ve discovered about people on the (autism) spectrum is that they are highly institutionalized,” says Anthony Larson, owner of Coulee Region Adventures and father of a 6-year-old with the disability.
Such a lifestyle, he theorizes, puts to “sleep” the part of the brain that makes maps and encourages creativity. Additionally, those on the spectrum often have issues with their body placement, as well as linking their body with their emotions and estimating where they are in time and space.
“So, when children participate in the outdoors, they are using parts of the brain that normally don’t get used, as well as utilizing muscle groups that don’t get used.
“Another benefit to being in the outdoors is exhaustion!” he emphasizes. “It’s a lot of work to be outdoors. And, like I tell my son’s therapists, he can’t fight if he’s tired.”
Eli Delany also noted the therapeutic value of fishing for his son, and that prompted him to found My Little Buddy’s Boat, an autism awareness program now promoted by many of the top professional anglers.
“He loves nature and the boat’s movement and the sensation it gives him,” says Delany. “He really is starting to enjoy the fishing part of it, casting his rod and holding the bass after we catch them.”
And Katie Gage, the mother of two sons with autism, adds this:
“Fishing has proven to be great therapy. They can find peace on the water, and they can connect their love of science and nature and stewardship. No pressure, just fish!”
So . . . you can tell the politicians that angling is worth more than $125 billion annually if you want to. I say that it’s priceless.
(Published originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)