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.)