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Entries in American Sportfishing Association (37)

Thursday
Jul312014

Sport Fishing Advocate Retires With Warning for Anglers

Gordon Robertson, retiring vice president and lead for government affairs at American Sportfishing Association

First, I was saddened to learn that recreational fishing’s champion in Washington, D.C., was retiring, effective June 30. Then he told me something that disturbed me even more.

“The angler’s image as a conservationist needs to be rescued,” said Gordon Robertson, who officially stepped down June 30 from his post as a vice president and lead for government affairs at the American Sportfishing Association (ASA).

“Conservation once meant wise use of our natural resources,” he continued. “The word ‘conservation’ has been hijacked by the preservationist community and now policy makers don’t see anglers as conservationists.”

Instead, many politicians now view groups such as the Ocean Conservancy, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council as having “conservation” agendas. Unless we reclaim what is ours through vocal activism, we will suffer loss of access and angling opportunities. As a consequence, the health of aquatic resources will suffer, because recreational fishermen are the nation’s first and foremost conservationists.

On the positive side, Robertson, who spent a dozen years at ASA, pointed out that recreational fishing continues to enjoy “an enormously positive image” among the public. We must capitalize on that, he added, “to make better habitat, more anglers, and an even stronger image.”

The West Virginia native also cautioned that we should not neglect working with the environmental community when we do share common interests on broad issues, such as water quality. “We need to strike a relationship that fosters those bigger accomplishments while gaining recognition for the role of the angler in conservation,” he said.

What I’ll remember Robertson most for was his leadership in creation of the Keep America Fishing (KAF) program in 2010. It’s now the largest angler advocacy group in the country, representing more than one million.

As KAF coordinated efforts to combat efforts to ban lead fishing tackle and restrict access, Robertson learning something that helped convince him that the image of the angler as a conservationist needs to be revitalized. “Too many anglers are apathetic and geographic,” he said.

“Some issues, like lead, resonate better than others. But collectively we need to think about the future of the sport.”

That’s just what Robertson did during his years with ASA, according to those who worked with him, including two former national conservation directors for B.A.S.S.

“Gordon Robertson has done more for anglers and sportfishing in this country than most will ever know,” said Noreen Clough. “Among other things, in his quiet but extremely effective way, he guided the last reauthorization of federal legislation that provides funding for Wallop-Breaux federal (Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program), which makes significant grants to states to manage their fisheries and fishing programs.”

She added that his ability “to work effectively on Capitol Hill, even in this climate, is testimony to his political savvy and patience.”

Bruce Shupp added, “Gordon, and his predecessors, were always the first, best, and most important contact for me to get B.A.S.S. engaged in the most effective way to advocate and/or combat issues affecting the resource and industry.”

Both during his time at B.A.S.S. and as New York fisheries chief, Shupp said, “Gil Radonski, Norville Prosser, and Gordon filled the same ASA role. They were all excellent at their jobs, served the industry very well, and are among the most respected professionals I had the pleasure of working with. I hope ASA will find a similar caliber replacement.”

In that regard, ASA President and CEO Mike Nussman pointed out that Robertson “set a high bar when it came to professional excellence, which had a significant influence on everyone with whom he worked. His ability to work with Congress and federal and state agencies on complex resource issues is unparalleled.”

Fortunately for anglers, Robertson won’t step away immediately from ASA. Working a reduced schedule, he will continue to assist with on-going projects, as well as in the search for his replacement.

Whoever is selected to replacement him, however, certainly will have big boat shoes to fill.

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Wednesday
Oct162013

A Look at Lead: Miracle Metal or Environmental Evil?

Is lead a miracle metal or an environmental evil?

It is neither. It is a naturally occurring element that anglers have used to make sinkers for thousands of years.

Today, it’s also the preferred material for jigheads and as ballast in hard lures and spinnerbaits. The sinker business alone is worth $100 million annually and jigheads $75 million, according to the American Sportfishing Institute.

But because of its toxic nature in some applications, such as paint and plumbing, lead also is a material demonized with hyperbole and distortion of facts by some environmentalists who want to ban its use by fishermen.

Ground zero for this assault is New England, where defenders of the loon claim that lead weights threaten survival of the iconic bird. Loons, they assert, ingest sinkers and then die of lead poisoning.

This does happen to a few birds annually. But studies and statistics don’t support their argument that populations are in any way threatened. Degradation of shoreline habitat for these reclusive birds poses a far greater danger.

Additionally, loons are ingesting tiny pieces of lead, not bullet weights or jigheads, which also are targeted in this emotion-driven propaganda effort in which misinformation is rampant.

Photo by Woody Hagge at www.learner.org

“The public hears about this anti-lead campaign and you’d be amazed at the phone calls I get,” said Gordon Robertson, ASA vice president.

“I get college students who think lead is like an aspirin. You drop it in the water, it dissolves, and the water becomes toxic.”

“We came by lead honestly,” he continued. “It’s cheap, easy to work with, and ubiquitous. And we don’t make lead, we move it around. But mistaken ideas like that make discussion difficult.”

In fact, lead does not dissolve in water. Yes, visualizing the accumulation of weights at the bottom of a lake or river is not aesthetically appealing, but that’s not the same as posing an environmental hazard. The soft, heavy metal is harmful only when ingested or inhaled (as dust from lead-based paint, for example).

“Lead is not a population problem for loons or any other bird,” Robertson said. “Yes, it kills a few individuals, but we manage for populations. Legislators don’t understand the management process. They don’t understand the realities.

“That’s why regulations about lead should come from fish and wildlife agencies, not legislatures. And bans should occur only where there are documented problems. Legislatures are much more likely to go for statewide bans.”

And while lead is not the environmental evil that its detractors claim it to be, it is more than a preferred material for sinkers and other fishing tackle; it is essential. Yes, some alternatives --- tungsten, steel, brass, tin, bismuth --- exist. But as with green energy options, much research will be necessary before they are commercially viable on a large scale.

“I like tungsten weights,” said Stephen Headrick, who makes Punisher jigs. “But I tried to go with tungsten (for jigheads) and it was too expensive. Also, most anything to do with tungsten is made in China. You buy tungsten and you are sending American jobs overseas.

“My jigheads are made in the U.S.”

T.J. Stallings of TTI-Blakemore echoed Headrick’s appraisal. “We looked at tungsten, but it’s cost prohibitive,” he said, adding that the higher melting points of tungsten, steel, and glass can destroy the temper of a hook.

“We’re working on a non-lead option so we will stop losing business in New England,” he added. “But fishermen are conservationists by default. The problem with lead is that we’re living in the age of misinformation and liars. That’s why we have this fear of lead.”

Alternatives for weights, meanwhile, are more practical than they are for jigheads, and that’s why Bullet Weights and other companies offer them. Still, tungsten, brass, steel, and tin make up only a fraction of the market.

“With tungsten, you are paying a higher price for performance, and it’s still only a small portion of our business,” said Joe Crumrine, president of the company. “Our Ultra Steel continues to grow in popularity, but we still sell more lead than anything.”

That includes split shot, the largest segment of the sinker market, but tin is making inroads, Crumrine said.

“No other material is soft enough,” he explained. “It costs twice as much as lead, but we sell a lot of it, even in areas where there are no lead bans.”

What’s most important, Robertson said, is that anglers themselves are able to choose whether they want to use lead or tin or tungsten. Among fishing advocates, the greatest fear is that lead bans will discourage participation, and that will mean the loss of critical revenue for state fish and wildlife agencies. That’s because they are funded primarily by anglers through license fees and excise taxes on fishing tackle, including lead sinkers.

“The more barriers that are put up, the more it hurts the industry and the resource,” he said. “And we’re not making lead. We’re simply using what exists.”

 

What’s the Alternative?

 As someone not afraid to call himself an environmental steward as well as an angler, Teeg Stouffer understands the practicality of lead use in the fishing industry.

“I don’t think that lead is the worst thing facing our waters and I don’t think we should ban it,” said the executive director of Recycled Fish, a conservation organization.

But he would like to see the industry move more aggressively toward development of  practical alternatives.

“We know that lead is a toxic substance, and nobody goes fishing with the intention to spread a toxic substance,” he said.

“If we have non-toxic alternatives available, why not use them? We don’t advocate for bans, but we do advocate for angler education. We believe that people want to do the right thing when they know what the right thing is, and most people don’t have information about alternatives. We want to help provide that information.”

Stouffer added that he’s caught hundreds of fish on lead-free jigheads, most of them made of tin-bismuth. He also owns some made of tungsten, which he admits are costly, and even some glass ones. “They’re really cool, but not super practical,” he said.

With the lead-free jigheads, he explained, “I have not experienced any issues with longevity or fishability, nor have I heard those objections from anyone else who is using lead-free products.”

What Stouffer wants to see is a consumer-driven switch from lead to alternatives.

“Would fishing tackle manufacturers be willing to spool up production to make a non-toxic  product to satisfy this market?” he asked. “Many manufacturers, both small and large, already are.”

(A variation of this article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Thursday
Oct102013

ASA Calls Shutdown of Lands and Waters 'Ludicrous'

A statement from the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) is below. Right now, I’m compiling information from around the country about how anglers specifically and the public in general are being hurt by the government shutdown.

Check back here later to learn more.

By the way, the ASA stays away from blaming the Obama Administration directly for much of this. I’m not.

A government shutdown is one thing. But maliciously inflicting pain on the American people in a petulant snit is another. For much of what is happening now, the shutdown is just an excuse by this dictatorial administration because it believes that its opponents will be blamed for the harm that it is inflicting.

The feds are spending far more in money and manpower to keep people away from many areas than they normally do in terms of monitoring and maintenance for those areas. In fact, many of these places usually aren’t even staffed.

And, yes, I am going to go there. National Park Service rangers and other federal para-military staffers are acting like Gestapo. During the Nazi regime, lots of “good” Germans went along to get along.

That’s what is happening here, as federal employees do what they’re told instead of what’s right.

From ASA:

Millions of anglers are now locked out of federal lands and waters and thousands of small businesses are suffering because Congress and the Administration can’t agree on the nation’s finances.

According to the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), federal agencies across the nation are warning anglers that they are not permitted to use public waters managed by the federal government during the federal shutdown. A statement from one federal land management agency says, “…facilities and lands are now closed to the public and public use activities have been suspended nationwide.”

“This is ludicrous,” said ASA Vice President Gordon Robertson. “We understand that public facilities that require staffing, such as buildings and federally-operated marinas and hatcheries, are not open and that federal employees are not permitted to operate these facilities. But let’s face it, most of the federal areas used by anglers are undeveloped and the recreational user typically visits them many times without seeing a federal employee of any type.”

Robertson further said, “We know that many of the complaints being voiced to the Department of Interior are from angry anglers who have planned trips, spent money on plane tickets, guides, lodging and new equipment who now can’t make their trip.”

As the stalemate between the Administration and Congress continues, the damage to the recreation industry mounts. Federally-controlled waters have a sportfishing community support system that is comprised of lodging facilities, restaurants, guide services and bait and tackle shops, just to name a few of the services used by anglers. Sportfishing in the United States on federal lands supports more than 100,000 jobs, providing $984 million in federal taxes to the federal government and contributing $13.8 billion to the nation’s economy each year. 

“The public knows where staff is needed to manage facilities and developed areas and where they are not,” continued Robertson.

“More baffling are statements from federal agencies saying that law enforcement staff will be on hand to enforce the closure of these waters during this federal shutdown. For example, law enforcement staff in areas like Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park will be on hand to stop the public from entering park waters during the federal shutdown. Attempting to ban the public from areas of the ocean due to budgetary restrictions – while paying law enforcement officers to enforce the ban – defies logic and can only be viewed as intentionally burdensome. Where will the closures stop? Will the federal government close down the oceans' entire exclusive economic zone too?”

Aside from the edict from the federal government that all federally owned waters are closed to anglers and all outdoor enthusiasts, the impacts to conservation are considerable. Every day that passes represents approximately $2 million that doesn’t get spent on fisheries conservation and federal fish hatcheries that don’t meet their schedules for fish production. Not to mention the inability of thousands of federal conservation employees to do their job and an even greater number of volunteer fishery conservation efforts that fall by the wayside. The cost to fishery conservation is incalculable.

“Many segments of the economy are being damaged by the failure to come to agreement over the nation’s finances and the recreation community is not exempt,” concluded Robertson. “The American Sportfishing Association encourages anglers to go to Keep America Fishing and send a letter to their Members of Congress saying it is time to stop the shutdown and get the nation back on its financial track so resource conservation can move forward and the public can once again enjoy its public trust lands.”

Friday
Sep272013

Help Keep America Fishing

Surf anglers at Cape Hatteras. Photo from Outer Banks Preservation Association.

As a kid, I didn’t just love to fish.

I lived to fish.

Over the years --- and usually fishing --- I’ve met many who felt the same way about their childhood.

Reading comments on Facebook and in fishing forums, I can see that many adults never outgrow that feeling. That’s good.

In fact, the world would be a better place if more people felt that way.

I’m not talking about forsaking a family, giving up a job, and throwing away responsibility to go fishing 24/7. I’m talking about recognizing the value of fishing for relaxation, enjoyment of nature, and as a dangling carrot to get you from Monday to Friday. I’m talking about time spent with children and grandchildren that allows you to share knowledge and experience, as well as pass on the passion for a wholesome activity that has brought you so much happiness.

Sadly, many who do not fish are rising to power in all levels of government. They come from a background that says preservation --- look but don’t touch --- is better than conservation --- sustainable use of a resource through good stewardship. Some are adamantly anti-fishing, with close ties to extreme environmental groups. Others simply give no thought or value to recreational fishing and would consider its demise an acceptable loss for implementation of their agendas.

What can be we about this? Well, we could take them fishing. That really is the best solution. But we might have to abduct some of them to get them out of their cubicles, and that could get complicated and messy and charges might be filed.

The alternative is to organize and stand strong for recreational fishing. I know, I know: Fishing is your escape from things like organizing and standing strong. It takes you back to childhood, when living to fish was pure and uncomplicated.

I understand and respect that feeling. But I also know that neglecting to defend what you love against an overzealous enemy is the surest way to lose it.

The irony is that those of us who fish --- about 40 million annually --- far outnumber those who would take it away. But the latter are committed to a preservationist agenda, while we who fish are committed to fishing more than we are protecting our right to fish.

Or at least that’s the way that it has been.

“We’re the biggest recreational sporting group in the country, but we’ve hardly been organized enough to tie our shoes,” said Bob Eakes, owner of Red Drum Tackle in Buxton, N.C.

Eakes and his business were among the first casualties in this war against recreational fishing, where many of the early volleys are being fired at saltwater anglers. Under the guise of protecting birds and turtles, the National Park Service (NPS) elected to side with three environmental groups and shut down access to nearly half of the world-famous surf fishery at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The battle to reclaim that fishery is still going on, but there’s no doubt that the NPS is no friend to recreational fishermen.

“Twenty-one national parks are waiting to see how this plays out,” Eakes explained. “And we’re starting to see issues in freshwater as well.”

On inland fisheries thus far, recreational fishing is being attacked mostly by groups who want to ban lead fishing tackle and associations and municipalities who use concerns about the spread of invasive species to shut down access.

But more is on the way. By executive order, the new federal National Ocean Council can decide where you can and cannot fish on oceans, coastal waters, and the Great Lakes, and it has the authority to extend its reach inland to rivers and lakes.

That’s why your support for the Keep America Fishing  campaign is so vitally needed. “No one has been trumpeting the message that the public’s right to fish is at stake. But with Keep America Fishing (KAF), we now have a way to do that,” said Eakes.

Garnering more than 43,000 messages of opposition from anglers, KAF helped defeat an attempt to impose a national ban on lead fishing tackle in 2010.

Go there to learn about the issues, get involved, and make a donation. Also, buy KAF’s “FISH!” stickers from your favorite retailers.

“Keep America Fishing is helping keep anglers informed about what matters to us all,” said Phil Morlock, director of environmental affairs for Shimano.

“Ninety-four percent of Americans approve of fishing, but some folks want to stop it,” said Gordon Robertson of the American Sportfishing Association.

“We have to fight to protect recreational fishing and Keep America Fishing gives anglers a way to help do that.”

(A variation of this article was published previously in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Friday
Sep132013

Red Snapper Bill Would Turn Over Management to States

Finally, something is being done to untangle the awful mess made of the red snapper fishery by the feds.

Introduced by a bipartisan coalition, the Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Conservation Act would establish a coordinated Gulf states partnership through which the states would comply with a management plan approved and adopted by the Gulf States Marines Fisheries Commission. The partnership would be similar to how the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission manages striped bass and how the Gulf states manage red drum (redfish).

“There are many examples where a shift to state-based management of a given fishery resource has been called for, producing better results,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association.

 “State fish and wildlife management professionals have a strong track record of managing their fishery resources in order to achieve the right balance between sustainability and quality fishing opportunities. The ongoing red snapper debacle in the Gulf is begging for the opportunity to put proven state-based management approaches to work.”

Federal management of this popular recreational species has been broken for years, and reached rock bottom in 2013 when frustration over status quo management compelled several Gulf states to seek greater control of the fishery in their own waters. In retaliation, the National Marine Fisheries Service used an emergency rule process to reduce the recreational season to nine days off Louisiana and 12 days off Texas. Both states sued and a federal court overturned the action.

The legislation comes after the governors of four Gulf states released a joint letter to the U.S. House and Senate leadership stating that federal management of Gulf red snapper is “irretrievably broken,” and calling for a coordinated Gulf states partnership for red snapper management. In a sign of broad support for the concept of state-based management of fish and wildlife resources, the entire leadership of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus has signed on to the bill.

“The reality is that federal management of the Gulf of Mexico recreational red snapper fishery is fundamentally flawed, and it is negatively impacting anglers and the coastal economies that depend on access to that fishery,” said Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation President Jeff Crane.

“Federal management of red snapper has painted itself into a corner,” added Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “We have a robust red snapper population in the Gulf, but 2013 was as chaotic a season as anglers have ever seen. The season started as the shortest ever, saw a revolt by some states that resulted in even shorter seasons, endured a lawsuit, received a glowing stock assessment and the promise of a fall season, only to crash on wild estimates of overharvest that put the fall season in jeopardy.

“This is no way to manage a fishery, and this legislation presents a way out of this no-win situation. Congressman (Rep. Jeff of Florida) Miller is a true champion of American anglers for taking the lead on this legislation. His leadership brings a reliable, workable solution that allows the Gulf states to better manage red snapper conservation.”