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Entries in public access (58)

Monday
Aug142017

Anglers Paying More to Access Public Waters

Fishermen don't like paying fees to launch their boats, park their vehicles, and participate in tournaments at public facilities on public waters. Even more, they don't like that those fees are increasing in places where they've already been established and being added in locations that once were cost-free.

As  Harvey Craft has learned, however, mostly all anglers want to do is complain about it. For years the Tennessee man who calls Percy Priest his home water has been trying to get fishermen and clubs to speak out in protest at being charged fees to use facilities that were paid for with taxpayer dollars.

But they're "not interested in doing a letter-writing campaign or anything else," he said. "They're willing to either pay the money or go to a (another) public ramp and just take their chances of hopefully not being broken into. Mainly, they just complain to each other."

Media and politicians aren't especially interested either, he said, with the latter adding that there's little they can do about it.

Although Craft had noted costs going up on other waters, what finally stirred him to action was new ownership at Four Corners Boat Dock on Percy Priest, a Corps of Engineers impoundment, which started charging $5 to launch. Now, it's $8.

Additionally, he said, "We've watched 50 to 60 spaces for vehicles/trailers reduced to 13."

Over on Norris Lake, a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) reservoir, an angler on the East Tennessee Fishing Forum was complaining about a $20 launch fee at Stardust Marina nearly eight years ago.

 "Many of the marina operators are shunning local folks, especially fishermen," he said. "They say fishermen don't spend money and they really don't want us. Some of the marinas don't even allow public launch at all."

On Kerr Lake, also known as Buggs Island, the Corps charges non-profit fishing tournaments $25 for under 25 boats, $50 for 26-100 boats, and $75 for more than 100 "to cover costs incurred by the Corps." For-profit competitors must pay $75 regardless of the size of the event on this fishery that straddles the Virginia-North Carolina border. Additionally, each vehicle using a Corps launch ramp must pay $5 per vehicle per day.

"By this point, I assume it will take many folks writing or calling their elected officials in Washington to get this stopped," Craft said.

Sorry to say, I don't think even that will stop it. The sad reality is that the recreational facilities built on Corps- and TVA-managed land require maintenance. Faced with cutting down on their own operating costs to stay within budget or closing public access areas, these agencies have turned over management of marinas, and their associated launch ramps and parking spaces, to commercial operators. The latter are in business to make a profit, and they also have maintenance costs.

"The Corps has allowed marina operators to charge a launching fee since 1993, just as the Corps has authorization by public law to charge a launching fee at its launching ramps," said Corps spokesperson Carolyn Bauer.

"The ramps, roads, and parking at the marina were constructed at federal taxpayer expense. However, ongoing maintenance is the responsibility of the marina operator. The docks and other structures were constructed at the marina operator's expense."

For TVA, it's much the same. "Commercial marina and campground operators can choose to charge for the use of their ramps or include a fee for the ramp use in their camping/marina fees," said Jim Hopson, manager of public relations. "This helps reimburse the commercial marinas for the capital improvements they make."

In sympathizing with Craft, Michael Butler, CEO of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, pointed out that this arrangement is win-win for the agency and the vendors who operate the facilities, "but the public gets screwed."

He added, "Personally, I think this is something that is a deterrent to more use, especially by tourists and others that can bring money into the state and into rural communities to support our economy."

What, then, is the solution for Craft, who is willing to speak out, and the millions of other anglers, who aren't?

Possibly the Corps and TVA should cede management and/or ownership of public access areas to those states willing to accept them. Almost certainly they would be more interested than are federal agencies and commercial vendors in the happiness of their angling constituencies, as well as in keeping costs down to attract business and help local economies.

Realistically, though, even under state management of these areas, fishermen are going to have to pay to play on Corps and TVA impoundments. That's just the way it is.

Tuesday
Jul112017

Modern Fish Act Introduced in Senate

The recreational fishing and boating community praised the Senate introduction of the “Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017” (Modern Fish Act), which would improve public access to America’s federal waters, promote conservation of our natural marine resources and spur economic growth.

A companion bill, H.R. 2023, was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on April 6.

“On behalf of America’s 11 million saltwater anglers, we thank Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), John Kennedy (R-La.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.),” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy.

“Recreational fishing is a tradition worth safeguarding through proper management policies and a critical component of the U.S. economy, with an annual economic contribution of $63+ billion. With a bipartisan bill introduced in both chambers, we are hopeful the Congress will ensure all Americans have fair and reasonable access to our nation’s marine resources by passing the Modern Fish Act.”

 For years, the recreational fishing community has been hindered by antiquated policies that restrict access to public waters, hurt the U.S. economy and detract from conservation goals. The Modern Fish Act addresses many of the challenges faced by recreational anglers, including allowing alternative management tools for recreational fishing, reexamining fisheries allocations, smartly rebuilding fish stocks and improving recreational data collection. The bill aims to benefit fishing access and conservation by incorporating modern management approaches, science and technology to guide decision-making.

"When passed, this landmark legislation will modernize the federal regulations governing access to the public’s natural resources by boaters and anglers,” said National Marine Manufacturers Association President Thom Dammrich.

“The Modern Fish Act will achieve many goals, the most important of which is getting more Americans outdoors and enjoying our wonderful natural treasures,” added Mike Nussman, president of the American Sportfishing Association.

“This bipartisan legislation includes key provisions that will adapt federal fisheries management to manage recreational fishing in a way that better achieves conservation and public access goals. Recreational fishing provides many economic, social and conservation benefits to the nation, and with this legislation, the federal fisheries management system will better realize those benefits.”
  
“The Modern Fish Act offers reasonable solutions to a management system designed primarily for commercial fisheries but which has failed to address the needs of millions of saltwater anglers,” said Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation President Jeff Crane. “The simple adjustments in this bipartisan bill would continue to ensure conservation of our nation’s saltwater fisheries, while finally establishing greatly needed parity for the recreational fishing community.”
 
“The Modern Fish Act would fix key issues in the law governing marine fisheries that keep recreational anglers from enjoying access to healthy fisheries,” said Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance.
 
The coalition supporting the Modern Fish Act includes American Sportfishing Association, Center for Sportfishing Policy, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, International Game Fish Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Recreational Fishing Alliance, The Billfish Foundation and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Friday
Sep162016

Recreational Fishing Allowed in New East Coast Marine Monument

 

In what now seems a never-ending struggle to ensure the future of recreational fishing, anglers have won another small victory. The Obama Administration is including it as an allowable activity in the new Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, approximately 150 miles off the Massachusetts coast.

For years, sports fishing advocates have campaigned to convince politicians and unelected bureaucrats that recreational fishing should not be considered synonymous with commercial fishing in terms of government policy. And too often that message has fallen on deaf ears, especially with the formation of Obama's National Ocean Council, with the purpose of "zoning" uses of public waters.

"For decades, recreational fishermen have generally been an afterthought in ocean resource management," said Mike Leonard, Ocean Resource Policy Director for the American Sportfishing Association.

"And when recreational fishing has received attention by mangers and policymakers, it’s usually lumped in with other 'extractive' activities like mining, drilling and commercial fishing.

"Anglers are leading conservationists and fully support reasonable regulations to conserve the environment. But we also don’t want to see bad public policy that bans recreational fishing unnecessarily." 

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument covers a 4,913 square mile area off the Massachusetts coast that contains deep sea corals and other unique and fragile marine habitats. These areas are also popular offshore fishing spots for anglers who target billfish, tuna and mahi mahi near the ocean surface.

During the marine monument designation discussions, the recreational fishing and boating community advocated that recreational fishing should be allowed to continue because, among other reasons, the type of recreational fishing that occurred in these areas has no interaction with the bottom habitats that are being protected.

“Summarily removing the public from public waters is not the way to properly manage our oceans, and it is encouraging that this Administration recognized how critical it is for conservationists to be connected to the environment they work to protect,” said Patrick Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association.

“Recreational fishing and marine conservation are not only compatible, but complimentary, and we are glad to see that angling will continue to be managed as a sustainable activity in these areas.”

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is the third marine monument created or expanded by President Obama. The previous two decisions, which designated areas near Hawaii and remote Pacific islands, also allowed for recreational fishing.

Sunday
Jun262016

Senate Bill Introduced to Prevent Closure of Sport Fisheries

A bill has been introduced into the U.S. Senate to uphold the authority of state fish and wildlife agencies and prevent unwarranted closures of fisheries, such as already occurred at North Carolina's Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Florida's Biscayne National Park.

“Given the significant economic, social, and conservation benefits that recreational fishing provides to the nation, any decision to close or restrict public access should be based on sound science and strong management principles,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association.

 “While closed areas have a role in fisheries management, they should only come after legitimate consideration of all possible options and agreement among management agencies.

"This bill, which is strongly supported by the recreational fishing industry, will ensure that the voice of state fisheries agencies is not lost in these decisions.”

Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act, also known as S.2807, is similar to legislation already passed in the House as part of the Sportsmen's Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act. It requires the National Park Service (NPS) to have approval from state agencies before closing Great Lakes or state marine waters to recreational and/or commercial fishing.

“It’s only logical that any decision affecting fishing access in state waters should have the approval of that state’s fish and wildlife agency,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “We applaud Sens. Cassidy (Bill of Louisiana) and Rubio (Marco of Florida) for introducing this common-sense legislation, and urge other members of the Senate to co-sponsor and help ensure this bill’s passage.”

In 2015, NPS implemented a 10,000-acre marine preserve in one of the nation's most popular urban fishing areas, despite protests by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The state agency said that it would be overly restrictive and not biologically effective, adding that less punitive management tools could rebuild the park's fisheries and conserve habitat.

NPS's decision to ignore Florida input and force new regulations in state waters revealed a loophole in current law that could affect any state with coastal or Great Lakes waters managed by the federal agency.

Tuesday
Mar152016

Lousiana Anglers Unite to Oppose Closures

A battle is heating up once again in the cultural and legal swamp of controversy regarding who owns and who has access to the canals and backwaters of southern Louisiana.

What may be different this time is that bass anglers seem intent on organizing on behalf of public access. They've created an organization, Louisiana Sportsmen Coalition, and a petition that garnered more than a 1,000 signatures before it was even written. And they intend to pursue a state legislative fix to this complex problem, as well as national support from fishermen and anglers' advocacy groups.

"We want to make sure that we're organized and have clearly defined what we want," said Sean Robbins, president of the Lake Verret Bass Club. "We want to do this right so people will take us seriously." 

This issue, mostly related to canals dug for access to oil and gas drilling sites, has been intensifying for years, as adjoining acreage was purchased and the waterways blocked. In 2003, pro angler Gary Klein was shot at by a landowner during the Bassmaster Classic. In 2007, a  U.S. District judge ruled that anglers could motor into flooded areas, but not fish them.  

Most recently, popular fishing canals were blocked near Lake Verret and in the Orange Grove area of marshes around Houma, according to Robbins. Some property owners want to keep out what they believe to be trespassers, Robbins theorized, while others are looking to make a profit by selling "memberships" to fish the waters that the claim are theirs by virtue of owning the land under it.

"Waters that have historically been open to public use are increasingly being gated off, making it more difficult to access productive fishing waters," he said. "It's time to stand up and fight to protect our right to recreationally fish canals connected to public waterways."

Robbins added that other clubs have voiced support for the petition and the campaign, as well as "a ton of guys who want to be included, who want to be a voice."

To find out more about the petition and joining the fight for access, check out Louisiana Sportsmen Coalition on Facebook.