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Anti-Fishing Agendas Revealed

(Author's note: An abbreviated version of this article appears in the September issue of B.A.S.S. Times. Here it will appear as two parts. Then I'll post my related opinion piece about anglers' rights being under assault.)

An anti-fishing message is immortalized at the new Miami Marlins baseball stadium.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) paid for a personalized paving stone in the East Plaza that reads as follows:

“Florida Is Still Hosting Incredible Night Games. Help Us Reach The Stars. Cheer Our Marlins!”

Unfortunately, in approving the inscription, Miami Marlin officials failed to notice that the first letter of each word spells out “,” a PETA website and an anti-fishing message.

Though the strategy for placing it might seem juvenile and the number of people that it affects minimal, the message typifies the relentless nature of PETA and other groups that want to end angling.

Over the years, they’ve also called for bans on recreational fishing in state parks and a Constitutional amendment protecting fish. While wearing a fish suit, a PETA member once picketed the Bassmaster Classic, earning points for bravery but not winning any supporters.

Likely their views never will reflect the majority opinion in this country, but as our society grows more urbanized, they will wield more influence, possibly even enough to shape public policy regarding management of fisheries.

With recreational angling under unprecedented assault today, that’s a dangerous proposition. But are the two enough to assume that a cohesive, conspiratorial anti-fishing movement exists?

No, they aren’t.

Still, Phil Morlock, Shimano’s Director of Environmental Affairs issues this warning:  

“Whether by design and intent or by other less nefarious means, I believe the very basis of science based fish and wildlife management, conservation and sustainable use is being threatened as never before.”

What, exactly, is the truth about those threats and how they relate to one another in the “big picture”? If we are to successfully protect recreational fishing for future generations, we must understand the opposition. B.A.S.S. Times asked fishing advocates and conservation leaders for their insights on the problem and how to deal with it.

As it turns out, the truth is more complicated than a coordinated anti-fishing movement, and, in some ways, even more sinister.

“Many of the most effective antis are never strident about it which is why they are such a threat,” Morlock said. “The agenda is to never appear to have an agenda.”

Chris Horton of the Congressional Sportsman’s Foundation added, “Recreational anglers are faced with more challenges today than we were 20, 15, or even 10 years ago.”

Animal Rights

First, animal rights groups do pose a greater threat than many realize. Represented by organizations such as PETA and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, they oppose not only sport fishing, but use of animals in agriculture and medical research.

 “More organizations drift closer to that (agenda) every year,” said Gordon Robertson, Vice President of the American Sportfishing Association. “They follow the demographics, and just look at today’s society: It’s becoming more and more urbanized and detached from nature.”

A message like “save the whales,” he added, resonates much more with a population “used to emergency messages” than does a plan for fisheries management.

Along with proclaiming their concern for whales, seals, and other sympathetic animals, however, these groups also assert that fish “are tortured just for ‘sport,” and they claim that “others (fish) are unintended victims who are maimed or killed simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The use of “victims” and “who” in referring to fish is no accident.

 The threat is heightened because many in the media tend to be sympathetic to these causes, Morlock said. Consequently, reporters often fail to interview credible scientists who can separate fact from fiction on issues such as whether fish feel pain when they are hooked.

“If fish did, they would be unable to eat many of the spiny/prickly creatures like crawfish and other fish (because of dorsal spines) that they survive on,” Morlock said. “That’s a rather obvious point to those of us who fish or who have a background in science. But for those who do not, the media does a poor job of filling in the rather glaring gaps in information deficiency often inherent in animal rights campaigns.”

Consequently, their arguments often are taken at face value when these groups insist not only that fish can feel pain, but that they can suffer from “fear and anticipation of physical pain.”

None of that is true, according to most credible scientists.

“When a fish is hooked by an angler, it typically responds with rapid swimming behavior that appears to be a flight response,” said Dr. James Rose, who has spent more than 30 years studying neurological responses  to pain in animals. “Human observers sometimes interpret this flight response to be a reaction to pain, as if the fish was capable of the same kind of pain experience as a human.”

But fish “don’t have the brain systems necessary to experience pain,” he said, adding that “flight responses of fish are a general reaction to many types of potentially threatening stimuli and can’t be taken to represent a response to pain.”

More Dangers

Other threats are less direct, but no less real, with recreational fishing at risk of being collateral damage. The persistent campaign by some environmental groups to ban lead fishing tackle is one of the most troubling, as is the growing movement by government, environmental groups, and lake associations to restrict public access.

With the former, the Center for Biological Diversity and others insist that lead fishing tackle must be banned to protect loons and other waterfowl. Even though no scientific research supports the notion that bird populations are being harmed by lead weights and other items, they continue to file lawsuits and push for bans at the state and federal levels, as well as try to sway public opinion.

“Getting the lead out seems a quick and easy fix, but the evidence is not there,” said Max Sandlin, who was a member of the CSF when he represented Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives. “Anglers and hunters are good conservationists.

“Those who want to ban lead might be well intentioned, but their arguments are not well thought out. A debate needs to be based on sound science. We need to be vigilant about these kinds of issues because they can go to the very heart of fishing and hunting.”

Much the same could be said about attempts to limit public access to public waters: The evidence is not there to justify the action.

In pushing for locked gates at launch ramps, lake associations cite concerns about boaters introducing invasive species such a zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil.

“But in doing that, they’re creating a barrier between themselves and groups like B.A.S.S. that are working on solving the problem,” said Tom Sadler, Managing Director of The Middle River Group, LLC and former Conservation Director for the Izaak Walton League of America.

“In closing access, they hurt the community, and they hurt their neighbors. Anglers must be ready with persuasive facts.”

To be continued.


More Carp DNA Found in Lake Erie

Silver carp.

From Lake Erie’s Sandusky Bay and Sandusky River comes bad news about Asian carp.  Twenty of 150 water samples tested positive for the presence of silver carp environmental DNA.

DNA was collected as part of extensive sampling effort conducted earlier this summer for Asian carp in Sandusky Bay and Maumee Bay in western Lake Erie. Maumee Bay DNA results are being analyzed.

On the positive side, no Asian carp were found through intensive electrofishing and test netting.

These areas are among the most productive in Lake Erie, the warmest and shallowest of the Great Lakes. As a consequence, Asian carp invasion could be catastrophic for bass, walleye, and yellow perch fisheries. Through their filter feeding, the exotics eliminate food needed for forage species, collapsing the food chain.

Read the full story here about the DNA discoveries.

Go here to see a video about how to identify bighead and silver carp. If they don’t recognize them, anglers who seine their own bait could accidentally transport these invaders from one fishery to another.


Here's Why Fishing, Hunting Participation Increasing

Take Me Fishing program is paying benefts.

Preliminary results from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey recently revealed that participation has increased for both fishing and hunting since 2006.

Here’s a brief analysis of why by Southwick Associates:

 When the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently reported the number of hunters grew by 9 percent since 2006 and the number of anglers grew by 11 percent in that same time frame, sportsmen and the sporting industry were thrilled.

The numbers, which are preliminary results released as the initial look into the USFWS’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, reversed what had been dropping participation levels in fishing over the past 10 years and indicated the first jump in hunter numbers in more than two decades. But what were the reasons for the turnaround?

Rob Southwick, president of Southwick Associates, which is a leading research and data analysis firm focused on the sportfishing and hunting industries, says the evidence points to several key factors.

“The slow economy has certainly had an impact”, says Southwick. “When the economy took a hit, a lot of people went back to enjoying more traditional activities that were also less costly than other options. Fishing license sales and tackle sales data all back that up.”

In addition to simple economics, on-going efforts to recruit new anglers are paying off. Southwick points to programs such as the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing National Campaign, which has been instrumental in introducing the sport to thousands of new anglers. Demographic shifts are also having an impact.

“Initial feedback indicates more baby boomers may be taking to the water”, says Southwick. The company and the USFWS will be looking at additional data in the coming months to identify other potential trends among youth and other segments of the angling community.

“We’ll be looking closely for shifts in youth and female participation. By the end of the year, we’ll know more”, says Southwick.

On the hunting side, the growth in participation is due to the same factors where the economy and recruitment programs are concerned.

“This is the first measured large increase in the number of hunters in years”, says Southwick. “Conservation and firearms industry organizations have been particularly effective at communicating the benefits of hunting.”

Organizations such as the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance all have programs geared toward growing youth and overall participation and have even teamed up to ease age restrictions that deterred many young people from participating in hunting. Additionally, expanded hunting opportunities such as allowing the use of crossbows in a number of states has made hunting more attractive to many new and returning hunters.

“Probably one of the most significant changes has been an apparent cultural shift regarding the acceptance and use of firearms,” says Southwick. Whether hunting or target shooting, many younger adults in their twenties and early thirties, are taking to shooting sports. Firearms sales have been strong for four years. Whether this is attributable to returning soldiers with a newly found appreciation of the shooting sports or to adults who want to get outside after spending too much of their youth indoors, we need to learn more about the reasons behind the increase”, says Southwick.

Southwick says there will be more details to come as his team reviews the data to identify more trends behind the growth in hunting and fishing and offers organizations the insight to keep these trends headed in a positive direction.


Raising Our Rods for Waters Across North America

Recycled Fish's 24 Hour Fish-A-Thon is coming up in early September.  This fast-growing event does so many good things for fishing that I hope you will choose a team and support it. (Full discloure: I'm on the board of directors for Recycled Fish.)

Here's more about the event, including how you can help protect and enhance our fisheries:

The problems facing our waters are many and varied – just like the anglers who are uniting to raise awareness for those problems, and raising money to solve them. Never before has such a large group of anglers – 50 teams across North America – joined the Recycled Fish 24 Hour Fish-A-Thon presented by Berkley Fishing. This Sept. 7 at 7 p.m., these intrepid anglers will make their first casts and then fish for 24 hours continuously – each team on its own home waters.

In Alaska, “Team Urbanite” is made up of two couples, Jarred and Renee Behrendt, and Pete and Monika Odren. They want to raise awareness about the Susitna River Dam, a $5 billion hydroelectric proposal that would dam the Susitna river to produce electricity, at the expense of a world-class salmon fishery.

“Other energy options would generate an equal amount of electricity at a lower cost without putting our valuable fisheries at risk,” says Jarred Behrendt. “We seek to educate others on these alternatives and raise awareness about the implications of building this dam.”


Sean Gage and his brother Ryan formed Team Catch and Release to help California's Lake Cunningham.

Several thousand miles south in California, “Team Catch and Release” is made up of brothers Sean and Ryan Gage. They love to fish – and both are autistic. That’s why they earned a $250 donation from an organization called My Little Buddy’s Boat, which bridges the gap between fishing and kids on the autism spectrum. The Gage brothers are concerned with the trash that they see at their favorite fishing spots, so they are raising awareness about cleaning it up. They’re raising funds for Stewardship Kits that they can distribute to their fellow fishermen and encourage them to be custodians of our waters..

“This event gives a voice to the boys’ passion,” says Katie Gage, the boys’ mother. “These boys care so deeply for nature. They humble me. We are blessed that they are high functioning, but they struggle. Ryan also has a rare blood disease that requires him receive treatment bi monthly through a port in his chest. When the Make a Wish Foundation offered him a wish he simply stated, ‘I have all I need.’”

Down on the Gulf Coast, Ben Weber and Jared Serigne are “Team Vanishing Paradise.” They’re raising awareness and funds to restore the Mississippi Delta, which is disappearing at an alarming rate – a football field every hour. It is one of this nation’s most important ecosystems for fish and wildlife—and one of its most endangered.

“If we don’t act soon,” says Weber, “the Delta as we know it will be gone forever, and with it a way of life. We’ll be losing an economic engine, the breeding ground for much of North America’s waterfowl and the fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico … and one of our national treasures.”

On the East Coast, four friends, Leo, Mike, Rob and Jay, make up “Team Philly Extreme Fishing.” They ply the urban waterways of Philadelphia, Pa., and what they see in the Schuylkill River worries them. Material pollution – trash – is a visible reminder of the invisible issues going on in the water. Point and non-point source pollution make the fish unsafe to eat, and hurt the population. Meanwhile, anglers harvest fish in a way that limits the potential of the fishery.

“Our goal is at the heart of what Recycled Fish does,” says team leader Leo Sheng. “Educating anglers about how to be better stewards of our waters, both on and off the water, because our lifestyle runs downstream. It’s good to remember that 50 percent of the funds we raise help Recycled Fish’s national mission, and the other half goes to help the Schuylkill River in specific, tangible ways through the Schuylkill River Development Corporation.”

Other teams are raising awareness and funds for combating invasive species in Vermont, water consumption issues in Colorado, access issues in Utah, youth fishing initiatives in Nebraska, habitat issues in Iowa, and pollution issues in Florida, to name a few.

Half of the dollars that each team raises directly funds a local solution for its local problem, either through Recycled Fish or another local non-profit organization working on the issue. The other half supports Recycled Fish’s national work to remedy the same kinds of situations across North America by engaging, educating and equipping anglers to be stewards of our waters.

At the same time, these 50 fishing teams are vying for prizes, like the fishing trips of a lifetime to jaw-dropping destinations. Spring Bay Resort on Lake Vermillion in Minnesota, FishTales Outfitting in Sheridan, Montana, and Hudson’s On The Spot Guide Service in Wisconsin, await teams that raise the most funds or catch the most fish. Other prizes from Berkley Fishing, Shakespeare, Castalia Outdoors, DICK’S Sporting Goods, Dragon’s Custom Rods, Aqua Design, and wildlife artist Curt Redden are also on the line for challenges ranging from the team that collects the most trash to the angler who takes the best “hero shot” photo.

“We couldn’t be more grateful to these anglers who are doing something so challenging,” said Teeg Stouffer, Recycled Fish Executive Director. “They all love to fish, but this is the angling equivalent of running a marathon. Now we hope that people will get behind what they’re doing to lend their financial support, and to pay attention to these critical issues. At stake aren’t just our favorite fishin’ holes. We’re talking about our drinking water.”

Although the registration deadline has come and gone for this year’s event, anyone can support the teams by visiting the Recycled Fish website: Each team has its own page, which introduces the fishing team and the water they’re fishing, the problem facing that water, and simple ways to fix that problem. Online donations to the team can be made right on that page, or instructions for donating with check by mail are available on each page as well.

The 24 Hour Fish-A-Thon action will be reported real-time through the Recycled Fish Facebook page and by following hashtag #24FAT on Twitter this September 7 & 8.


Walmart Heirs Allied With Obama Administration in Anti-Fishing Agenda

Anti-fishing is well represented in President Obama’s administration, and, as I pointed out yesterday, its advocates will be even more aggressive should this President win a second term.

They will have plenty of support too. Not in terms of numbers; recreational fishing is viewed favorably by a vast majority of people. But in terms of finances; preservationists --- those who believe that we should exist apart from nature, as opposed to as a part of nature --- have deep pockets, and they are spending millions to keep us from fishing.

About a year ago, the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) pointed to the Walton Family Foundation as one of the worst, even though Walmart stores are eager to sell fishing tackle to anglers.

“Shopping for fishing equipment at Walmart is contributing directly to the demise of our sport, it’s supporting lost fishing opportunities and decreased coastal access for all Americans,” said RFA Executive Director Jim Donofrio.

 “I hope all RFA members across the country will remember that when it’s time to gear up, but I would also wonder if perhaps our industry can help spread the message and support our local tackle shops by also pulling product off Walmart’s shelves.” 

In the wake of that revelation, the National Legal and Policy Center explained Walmart ties to the green movement in an article with the headline “Walmart Heirs Fund Anti-Fishing Activists.”

Here’s an excerpt:

“The bulk of the foundation’s grants have gone to many of the usual suspects within environmental extremism: Environmental Defense Fund, World Wildlife Fund, National Audubon Society, American Rivers, Ocean Conservancy, and Marine Stewardship Council, among others. The New Jersey-based Recreational Fishing Alliance calls the substantive gifts an attempt to ‘fund the demise of both the recreational and commercial fishing industry,’ noting especially Ocean Conservancy’s desire to eliminate access.”

And there’s more. Much more. Stay tuned to the Activist Angler to learn what we’re up against.

Also, remember that a vote for President Obama in November is a vote against recreational fishing and a vote for the preservationist movement embraced by the Walton Family Foundation and other philanthropists whose views don’t reflect those of the majority of Americans.