Time to Work With Recreational Fishermen, Not Against Them

Environmental and recreational-fishing groups could better accomplish the mutual goal of healthy fish populations by working together rather than attacking each other

November 12, 2017


Anglers prepare to head out for morning of fishing near Sebastian Inlet, Florida
Anglers prepare to look for fish on a stretch of Florida’s Indian River, where the growing problems of pollution and habitat loss threaten the healthy fish populations that both anglers and environmentalists (often one/same) ulitmately seek to protect. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

Common Ground

Suddenly, this country’s recreational fishermen seem to matter. That’s been a long time coming. Of course, we know we’ve mattered — certainly economically (to the tune of billions of dollars annually) — for many years. But lately, recognition of the importance for angler access to fish and fishing is on the upswing. The proof of that can be seen on several fronts, including: An expanded, far more generous federal season for anglers to catch red snapper this year in Gulf of Mexico federal waters; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries rejecting a petition by several environmental groups to list Pacific bluefin tuna as an endangered species, thereby preserving recreational fishermen’s access off California; Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross agreeing with New Jersey (and against the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission) last August to allow anglers to continue catching summer flounder; A statement in an exclusive online interview with Sport Fishing magazine in September wherein Chris Oliver, the new head of NOAA Fisheries (National Marine Fisheries Service), reaffirms the “need to recognize these differences [between commercial and recreational fishing] and, where appropriate, use different management approaches to ensure both communities thrive.” Further proof of the recognition that sport fishing matters can be found in a flurry of activity on the part of some large environmental groups that apparently took note of this. They nervously decry the increasing willingness among the nation’s federal lawmakers to consider amending the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the nation’s primary fisheries law. Groups such as the National Resources Defense Council labeled an effort to amend MSA as the “Empty Oceans Act.” Pew and the Environmental Defense Fund say amending MSA would move us backward.

“I recall, back in the 1990s, when some large environmental groups really did reach out, trying to find common ground. But in the past 15 or so years, mistrust and antipathy have increased to toxic levels.”

I understand such concerns, and while I don’t support the positions of these groups, I do acknowledge the need for thoughtful consideration of proposals that would amend MSA.

But my point here involves what seems to be a great deal of green groups’ energy and resources going lately to the fight against the efforts of the recreational-fishing community as it strives to prevent losing access to fish.


Thus the NRDC rails against the “alarming trend of political officials intervening to undermine science-based fisheries management, and effectively sanctioning overfishing of sensitive populations.” The largest environmental nongovernmental organizations feel compelled to counter what anglers understand as their right to fish.

I realize that many of my fellow fishermen consider such groups as an evil-incarnate enemy. Vilification and hating are the easy responses. But more reasoned voices realize that, at the least, the end goal of these environmental groups is one that everyone supports: safeguarding our marine-fish populations.

The issue, of course — and where the disagreement comes in — is how best to do that.


Ironically, the more that enviros and recs battle each other, the fewer the resources they can devote to one objective they can agree upon.

I recall, back in the 1990s, when some large environmental groups really did reach out, trying to find common ground. But in the past 15 or so years, mistrust and antipathy have increased to toxic levels.

During most of that time, anglers seemed to have little of the power exerted by large environmental groups. But that’s changing, and it is clear that anglers are not going away. A recent report shows angler participation in this country up 20 percent in the past 10 years.


Tearing down the walls to find common ground for cooperation represents an extraordinary challenge, but stranger things have happened.

Sport Fishing welcomes opportunities to share a variety of perspectives from prominent or influential participants in issues related to recreational fishing and fisheries.


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