Sunday, June 10, 2018


For the past 15 months or so, anglers have been the targets of an intense, and intensively funded, public relations campaign that has urged them to support the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act, something that its supporters refer to bey the more appealing sobriquet of “The Modern Fish Act.”

Anglers’ rights groups implored their members to support the legislation, with the Recreational Fishing Alliance and the like-minded Coastal Conservation Association both praising the bill.

“One of the association’s main priorities is to see the Modern Fish Act become law.  This bipartisan bill will make long-overdue changes to improve federal marine fisheries management.  We need our entire industry to stand behind it and promote it to the recreational fishing public.  Our partner in the legislative effort, the Center for Sportfishing Policy, has developed a suite of digital tools that you an use on your websites and social media to bring awareness of this bill to your customers.  It’s time for recreational fishermen and our industry to speak up—help us expand this call to action.”

“Never has there been a more critical time to get involved in advocacy and attend the American Boating Congress.  In 2018, the recreational boating industry is facing major policy decisions that will come to a head this summer and have long-lasting impacts on boating in the U.S., including getting the Modern Fish Act passed…”

“It is critical we engage with our nation’s decision-makers now to shape legislative decisions in the coming months.  With so many key issues coming to a head this summer, it’s imperative that you attend this year’s American Boating Congress to help us address major policy decisions impacting your business…”

“Anglers of all backgrounds should be able to enjoy this great sport without limitation.  Although most of these efforts [to limit angling activities] the problems in saltwater today the problems in freshwater tomorrow.  [emphasis added]”

“The recreational fishing industry can flourish or fail based on decisions made in Washington, D.C.  Specifically, saltwater anglers continue to be misrepresented in major federal fisheries management policies.  And with one in every four anglers fishing in saltwater, that is too many Americans who cannot enjoy the great pastime of fishing due to dated fishery management.  Bass Anglers for Saltwater Conservation brings both saltwater and freshwater fishermen together to defend the sport we all love.  [emphasis added]”
To call that a simplistic explanation of important fisheries issues, with no honest discussion of the issues involved would be, if anything, an understatement.  So naturally visitors to that page are quickly directed to another that encourages them to support the Modern Fish Act.  Again, the reasoning is superficial”

“The Modern Fish Act is at a crucial stage, with votes approaching in both chambers of Congress.  However, we still need your voice to support this bill and the rights of recreational anglers.  Click below to send a letter urging your elected officials to support the Modern Fish Act.  [emphasis added]”
As I said, despite the name of the site, there isn’t a lot of conservation being promoted there.

And when we recognize that, we start to get closer to the truths underlying the Modern Fish Act.

Modern Fish Act supporters have long tried to disguise themselves by hiding under the mantle of conservation.  The American Sportfishing Association has claimed that

“It will improve access to America’s federal waters and promote conservation of our natural marine resources,”
although how greater “access”—which, in the Modern Fish Act context, always means more dead fish, as there is no bar to anglers merely venturing into federal waters, and so “accessing” them, today—will promote conservation is never exactly explained.

“We are proud to Work with Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to advance a common-sense policy that remains true to our conservation goals while promoting access to our healthy natural resources.”
The latter quote was reprinted on On the Water magazine’s website, and immediately drew a response from a reader who said

“Shame on OTW for this ‘article.’  Don’t believe this garbage for a second.  This act is being pushed through by companies trying to sell more boats.  The results will be loopholes that allow overfishing and stocks will collapse…”
While I disagree with that reader’s first sentence—I’m a strong supporter of the First Amendment, and believe that a publication has the right to publish anything that it wishes, so long as it’s not defamatory, and further believe that a reputable publication, which I consider On the Water to be, has an obligation to acknowledge many differing viewpoints—I think that the rest of that comment pretty well captures the rarely-spoken truth about why folks are trying so hard to get the Modern Fish Act passed.

And truth, as they say, will out.

“These amendments need to not only support the existing populations of recreational anglers and fishing related businesses but also allow new entrants to come into the fishery and businesses to grow and expand. 
“The law needs to recognize that in its current form, our tradition of fishing cannot be passed onto our children without [the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act] taking away opportunity from the rest of the fishing community.”
It wouldn’t be at all unreasonable to interpret that statement to mean that the intent behind the Modern Fish Act isn’t to better conserve and manage fish stocks, as the Act’s supporters often say, but to provide a bigger pool of dead fish to support an increase in the number of fishermen, and a related increase in the size, number—and profits—of fishing related businesses.

In fact, it’s hard to interpret such statement in any other way.
Such an interpretation finds support in a number of recent comments made by leading members of the boatbuilding industry.

“Today’s system of fisheries management is outdated, and hampering access for our nation’s recreational anglers.  People won’t purchase boats and equipment if they see no reason to get out on the water…  [emphasis added]”
From that, NMMA’s reasons for supporting the Modern Fish Act seem pretty clear.  And conservation isn’t among them…

This week, two other pieces authored by boating industry insiders came out, in support of the Act.  One was written by John Pfeiffer, President of Mercury Marine, which is headquartered in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  Writing in the Kenosha (WI) News, Mr. Pfeiffer noted that

“Under Magnuson-Stevens as currently written, the federal government tries to manage a family on a day-trip the same way they it manages commercial fishermen who fill their holds with thousands of fish.  The failure to make a clear distinction between the two pursuits makes little sense and stunts the growth of the American sportfishing and boating industries
“While Wisconsinites mainly fish in fresh water, we’re excited about the Modern Fish Act.  By updating and improving saltwater fisheries management, the recreational fishing industry would grow, creating more demand for boats and marine accessories like those we manufacture and sell at Mercury Marine…    [emphasis added]”
There’s that “let’s kill more fish so we can expand our business” thing again…

“Recreational fishing matters to hundreds of Connecticut marine businesses, including mine.”
Taken together, it’s all pretty clear.  The Modern Fish Act has nothing to do with conservation.  The truth is, it’s all about the bottom line.

The interesting thing is that, when people learn the truth, it has consequences.

The Galveston County Daily News has reported that “Charter groups dump Yamaha motors over lobbying.”  {Unfortunately, the story is behind a pay wall, but anyone who wants to confirm the headline, or pay to read the whole thing, can click on this link.)

According to the Daily News,

“About a dozen local charter company boat captains so far have sold their Yamaha motors and replaced them with different brands to protest the Yamaha Motor Co., a multinational company based in Japan that makes and sells outboard motors and boats, among other products.
“The company has advocated for changes to the federal fishing management law that would roll back some of the principals [sic] that helped rebuild once-depleted fisheries and lead to unsustainable practices, said Scott Hickman, owner of Circle H Outfitters, a charter fishing company.”
Capt. Hickman reportedly said that

“We had turned the corner and rebuilt these fisheries.  Now, companies like Yamaha are funding bad legislation that would roll back the conservation aspects of the act.”
Yamaha, not unsurprisingly, denies doing anything that would harm fish stocks, but has admitted that

“The company pushed for the changes because they would update how data is collected about the fishery and extend recreational seasons, which is good for business.  [emphasis added]”
But extended recreational seasons aren’t necessarily good for the fish.  As the Daily News article notes,

“Mike Short, a Galveston captain who owns Get Hooked Charters, removed the Yamaha motors on several of his boats in protest of the company’s lobbying.  Short supported longer recreational seasons, but thought recreational anglers should be held to enforcement standards for catch limits like other sectors, he said.
“’Yamaha is sticking its nose where it shouldn’t,’ Short said.  ‘Their job is to build and sell motors.  There’s plenty of fish out there, they just need to let the government do what they do to manage the fishery.’”
Change “Yamaha” to “fishing and boating trade groups, as a whole,” and he’s pretty well said it all.

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