The national rumor mills are grinding out political spin like a child's game of telephone gone bad, and the broad topic is that the Obama Administration wants to shut down recreational fishing.
For the last couple weeks or so, the blogs and some Web sites have been casting about on the issue, and they have hooked and reeled in enough individuals willing to believe this scenario, however farfetched. "Obama" might as well also try to ban baseball and apple pie.
Step back and think about it: No politician of any stripe would be so stupid to try summarily to shut down the hallowed tradition of angling. Only nutcase outfits like PETA would crusade for that, and PETA has no traction among the vast, sensible majority of Americans.
The problem is that within most rumors, dissembling, and disinformation campaigns there are a few seeds of truth. These in turn are fed and watered until they grow into a noxious weed as big as Jack's beanstalk.
Directly at issue is an emerging national policy for conservation and management the oceans and coasts, including the Great Lakes, being developed by the Obama Administration. The goal is sustainable use of the aquatic resources.
The American Sportfishing Association, an angling industry lobby, legitimately raised the question last October, during drafting of the policy, about whether enough or even if any consideration was being given to including recreational fishing as a legitimate part of the package and to recognize what it says is recreational fishing's $125 billion economic impact to America.
"We don't think the [oceans] reports ban recreational fishing, and we never said that," begins the ASA Patty Doerr in response to an inquiry last week. She is ocean resource policy director for the association.
"We have been working with the Obama Administration to convey the societal, conservation, and economic benefits of recreational fishing, and our goal has been to have the administration recognize and promote recreational fishing as a priority in their national ocean policy."
Indications are clear that the Obama Administration "gets it." Point-walkers for the administration in the policy development said so in official public statements last week from the lead agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.
"The Ocean Policy Task Force has not recommended a ban on recreational fishing," stated Eric Schwaab, NOAA's assistant administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"The draft reports by the Ocean Policy Task Force do not contain a zoning map and do not establish any restrictions on recreational fishing, nor make any judgments about whether one ocean activity or use is better than another," said Schwab. "Instead, the reports set up a policy and framework for effectively managing the many sustainable uses of the ocean while upholding our responsibility to be stewards of our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes.
"As a member of the task force, NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco, has said, and I echo her on this, that saltwater recreational fishing is vital to this nation and NOAA is committed to building a strong partnership with America's saltwater anglers to ensure that Americans have opportunities to fish sustainably for generations to come."
Schwab added: "Saltwater recreational fishing matters to me on a personal level as a recreational fisherman, it matters to millions of Americans who enjoy this great sport and it matters to our economy. Our most recent economic report shows it supports a half million jobs and generates $82 billion in sales each year.
"NOAA is committed to adopting policies that will ensure that current and future generations have the opportunity to enjoy the great tradition of recreational fishing."
Echoing that tack was a statement from Christine Glunz, communications director at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
She said the draft of the task force reports has "included the interests of conservationists and the recreational fishing community.
"In fact, one of our main goals is to ensure healthier ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes, which will benefit all recreational activities and the communities and economies that rely on them."
Bryan Burroughs, executive director of Michigan Trout Unlimited, noted that TU has been watching the issue for months and has grown increasingly concerned about the "misinformation that might be floating around."
Chris Wood, TU president and CEO, and Steve Moyer, TU vice president for government affairs, issued a joint statement on the issue:
"We at TU hope that the CEQ and NOAA statements put this issue to rest. In our view, there is no evidence that the Obama Administration intended to use the work of the Ocean Task Force to undercut marine sport fishing.
"Also, we would like to point out that [NOAA's] Eric Schwaab began his new position in February and is a superb conservationist and an avid angler. We wish him well and look forward to working with him in the coming months.
"NOAA has invited TU to join many other sportfishing groups to participate in a recreational saltwater fishing summit in Alexandria, Va. in April to discuss this and other issues pertaining to marine sportfishing."
Doerr said that ASA will be at the table, among others. She appears satisfied with the official stance that has been staked out.
Still, she worries about "the unintended consequences thing."
She cites a general concern with the early ocean policy drafts "that could eventually lead to closure of recreational fishing."
The grounds for such concern may not be unfounded, as Doerr points out. In California, a state marine life protection law in 1999, which was supported by the angling community, has morphed into a no-use preservationist, rather than wise-use conservationist, strategy that has shut down one prime recreational fishing zone after another.
California coastal anglers, Doerr contends, have been marginalized under the state marine life protection law.
Presumably those shutdowns, and similar ones in Florida, may have been fueled by anti-fishing interests, according to the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, a Columbus-based national hunting and fishing lobby.
The USSA acknowledges that despite the firestorm, a [U.S.] Department of the Interior fact sheet denies any intent to restrict fishing access.
"However, there remain causes for concern," the lobby said, contending that NOAA also has "imposed restrictions on sport anglers in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and the South Atlantic."
Commentary: Whatever the final oceans policy, the Obama Administration must assure that any decisions on ocean fisheries are science, not politics-based. And it should leave any policy and management of the Great Lakes in the capable hands of the eight lakes states and province of Ontario, who are international partners of the long-standing Great Lakes Fishery Commission.
Contact Steve Pollick at: