Thursday, June 18, 2015
In what can only be called a surprising and somewhat strange announcement, the Bass Anglers’ Sportsman Society, better known as B.A.S.S.—the organization that effectively created the freshwater bass tournament industry and turned a bunch of once-laid-back folks in rowboats and runabouts into the most lucrative marketing opportunity in outdoor sports—has announced that it is getting into salt water fisheries politics.
On the surface, it doesn’t make sense.
B.A.S.S. tournaments are all about catching freshwater bass, and even then, white bass and stripers need not apply. B.A.S.S. fishermen are, well, bass fishermen; many don’t wander too far from freshwater lakes and don’t fish for the fish that swim in the sea.
So just why would an organization focused on tournament fishing for freshwater critters create Bass Anglers for Saltwater Conservation?
When you read between the lines, the cause becomes clear, and conservation has little to do with it.
Go to the web page, and you find B.A.S.S. members being urged
“Tweet Congress to support our right to fish!
“Join with Dean Rojas and countless other pro anglers in the fight to defend our right to fish. By sending this prewritten tweet to your Congressmen, you’re sending a message to Washington D.C. that anglers will not be ignored. Join the fight today!”
A similar message goes on to tell all the B.A.S.S. members that Mike Iaconelli, another tournament pro, wants them to contact their Senators.
I’m not a B.A.S.S., member, and can’t access the preprinted message, but it’s not hard to guess what it says, particularly after reading the article in Trade Only Today, which is dominated by the Center for Coastal Conservation’s President, Jeff Angers, gushing over the new B.A.S.S. effort, saying things such as
“There are 13 million saltwater anglers, 31 million freshwater anglers. We are much stronger together.
“Whether you fish in salt water or fresh water, I encourage you to visit BassforSalt.com today and speak out about the sport we love.”
And then Angers gets to the kicker.
“With Congress considering the Magnuson-Stevens Act—the primary legislation affecting recreational fishing in federal waters—and with Washington imposing unrealistic restrictions on fishing from the Carolinas to Biscayne Bay to the Gulf of Mexico, it’s time that we as anglers make our voices heard.”
I have to admit, it’s a masterful ploy. By invoking bass fishing celebrities such as Dean Rojas and Mike Iaconelli, Angers—and the folks at B.A.S.S.—have a very good chance of getting a bunch of star-struck anglers to take a stance on marine resources issues that they know nothing about, just as a Lady Gaga or similar celeb can work up junior high co-eds over some social cause.
On the other hand, it’s pretty strange, because B.A.S.S. traditionally paid no attention to other species at all. Ray Scott was the entrepreneur and visionary who gave birth to the organization, and his biography, published on the website of Ray Scott Outdoors, notes that
“’[B.A.S.S. is] an exclusive club, dedicated to the black bass only. ‘If you mess with musky or piddle with perch, you don’t belong in B.A.S.S.’ was Scott’s message.”
So we can’t help but wonder was B.A.S.S. is suddenly getting interested in salt water fish politics.
In addition, Scott himself quickly came to understand the value of conservation. Although the very first B.A.S.S. tournaments weighted in dead fish, that quickly changed for the better. As his biography explains,
“Attending a Federation of Fly Fisherman’s conclave in Colorado, Scott watched a fly-rodder catch a small 12-inch trout. Then later he experienced an awakening as he watched the catch-and-release ceremony the angler and his fishing companions observed in releasing the trout.
“It was then that Scott’s idea for ‘Don’t Kill Your Catch’ bass fishing tournaments was born. Among Ray Scott’s many contributions his concept of catch-and-release may well be the most lasting legacy. Today more than 98 percent of bass weighed-in during national B.A.S.S. tournaments return alive to the waters and the release percentage is equally high among other fishing groups, bass clubs and individual anglers.”
Given those facts, which are unquestionably true, it’s difficult to comprehend why B.A.S.S. would take a national stand to weaken federal fisheries laws so that irresponsibly high numbers of fish of all sorts might be killed in the sea.
I know bass guides who regularly participate in bass tournaments, and my wife and I once had the privilege of fishing, in upstate New York, with a young guide who had national B.A.S.S. pro ambitions. Spending time with such folks, it doesn’t take long to get a real feel for their connection to the resource. They would have scant tolerance for anyone who suggested that laws should be eased so that people could kill more freshwater bass than the science suggested, and put the health of even one lake’s bass stock at risk.
For the catch-and-release culture is well-ingrained, not only among B.A.S.S. folks, but among freshwater anglers as a whole, who gladly fish under the sort of rational, science-based rules that the Center for Coastal Conservation has always deplored.
So why is an organization with a heritage of conservation in their home waters trying to oppose conservation at sea?
We can’t know for certain, because that’s something that will never be told on its website.
Perhaps they just don’t understand what they’re promoting. They might have been sold a bill of goods by the Center folks, who painted their greed in red, white and blue and framed it with photos of families and kids who were allegedly denied access to the sea’s bounty.
Or perhaps—and this is my guess—we can look to the sponsors, the boatbuilders and tackle folks who support the B.A.S.S. tournaments and TV shows, who also belong to the trade groups that make up the Center. It’s not hard to imagine them using their access to B.A.S.S. personnel and convincing them to help weaken the federal law for the industry’s gain.
Whatever the reason, it is very unfortunate, for up until now, B.A..S.S. and its founder have created a legacy of doing good things, creating an economic powerhouse based on conservation and catch-and-release, not on coolers and stringers filled with dead fish.
Bass Anglers for Saltwater Conservation isn’t about bass, isn’t about B.A.S.S., and most certainly isn’t about conservation. It is merely a cynical effort that takes advantage of B.A.S.S.’ good name and the good will of B.A.S.S. members, and enlists them in a cause that is, at its heart, contrary to the organization’s past efforts and, if those efforts can be any guide, its core standards as well.
We can only hope that both B.A.S.S. and its members take another look at the program, and realize just how wrong it is.