I had not planned on doing a post on this subject this week. My original intent was to answer fellow blogger John McMurray’s post on slot limits for striped bass – or, in his case, not using slot limits for managing striped bass.
However, I came across a piece of anti-recreational fishing rhetoric that contained so much disinformation and misinformation that it required some comment. The piece was titled “Gumballs are fun, but what about the real world?” It was written by Nils Stolpe in the May 9 issue of FishNet USA. (http://www.fishnet-usa.com/Gumballs.pdf)
I was previously admonished by him that I should know better than to challenge his anti-recreational writings. Well, whatever the outcome, I could not let his latest go unchallenged, because it epitomizes the disconnect between recreational and commercial fisheries. What Mr. Stolpe takes offense with is a discussion/demonstration by Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association, concerning the value of the recreational fishing industry in relation to the attention given to it by the federal fisheries management system. (http://blog.trcp.org/2014/02/18/how-many-gumballs-for-recreational-anglers/ ) Apparently, Nils did not like the graphic demonstration that used gumballs to show some startling differences.
I have brought up these numbers in the past, and they were what caused Nils to admonish me, but I’ll bring them up again to continue making a point. Recreational users make up about 98 percent of the finfish resource users. The recreational sector gets about 2 percent of that resource and with that 2 percent generates about 73 percent of the overall economic value. Historically, the recreational industry has received about 2 percent of the fisheries management attention, but that has changed dramatically in the last few years and continues to do so. (See last week’s blog)
In Nil’s blog, he complains, “The people at the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) are embarking on the second year of a campaign to convince anyone who will listen that recreational fishing is equally as or more important than commercial fishing and that in their estimation the federal government should not be putting so much emphasis on managing the commercial fisheries.” Well, that is an interesting comment when Nussman went out of his way to say that the demonstration was not meant to be an attack on commercial fishing. Stolpe even quotes Nussman in his piece: “We’re not releasing this report in an effort to demean commercial fishing. Commercial fishing is very important to our nation’s economy! Our goal is to highlight the importance of recreational fishing to the nation. As our coastal populations continue to grow, along with saltwater recreational fishing, significant improvements must be made to shape the nation’s federal fisheries system in a way that recognizes and responds to the needs of the recreational fishing community.” I am having trouble understanding how pointing out the facts is an attack on commercial fishing. I guess that is all in how one perceives the intent.
Nils also indicates that it is demeaning to state economic facts for the sportfishing industry such as, “In 2011 anglers landed 204.9 million pounds of saltwater fish. In pursuit of these fish, saltwater anglers spent $26.8 billion on fishing tackle and equipment and trip-related goods and services. Including multiplier effects, their spending generated $70.3 billion in economic output (sales), created $32.5 billion in value-added growth and supported 454,542 jobs with $20.5 billion in income. … Of the commercial sector’s landings, 4.9 billion finfish pounds were the same species frequently targeted by anglers, with a landed value of $2.1 billion. Including multiplier effects along the entire value chain from harvesters to processors to final consumers, commercial finfish harvest of species also sought by anglers generated $20.5 billion of economic output. This is the ‘sales impact,’ which is not to be confused with expenditures or retail sales which created $10.6 billion in value-added impacts and generated 304,611 jobs with $7.5 billion of income.” He does not even imply that these numbers are incorrect.
While Nussman goes out of his way to try to indicate that this effort is not meant to simply go after commercial fishing, Nils does not let this get in the way of attacking the recreational fishing industry. He also makes the classic mis-comparison of the individual recreational fishing participant with the commercial fisherman, either unintentionally or intentionally. “On the other hand recreational fishermen aren’t buying fish when they go fishing, they are buying a recreational fishing experience, and the more pleasurable that experience is the more they are likely to spend. Within limits this isn’t determined by the amount of fish caught. Recreational fishermen aren’t driven by anything approaching the bottom-line constraints that commercial fishermen and others in the seafood supply chain face.”
Nils hits on so many issues in that statement that I only hope I can cover them all. The first thing inferred is that recreational anglers only go out for the experience of fishing. That is categorically incorrect. If anglers did not want to catch fish, why do trips rise exponentially when stock biomass rises? Striped bass trips from a low of approximately 840,000 when stocks were depleted in 1985 to a high of approximately 12 million when the stocks reached the high level in 2006? Anglers want to catch fish. Anglers want to eat fish as well. Maybe in Nils’ estimation, everyone should have to head to the local fish market to buy their seafood. But this product is not simply feeding a hungry world. Have you been to the fish market lately? In my neck of the woods, you cannot buy anything for less than $10 a pound.
He also compares the end user on the recreational side to an entity one rung up the ladder on the commercial side. Let’s compare the boat manufacturer, marina owner, tackle shop manager or tackle manufacturer to the commercial fishermen. He also infers that the end user on the commercial side is someone entirely different from the average angler. That is not correct; there is considerable overlap.
Nils also questions why the economic report done for the American Sportfishing Association by Southwick Associates leaves out shellfish in the economic picture. The report focused on finfish to finfish to give a reasonable and responsible comparison. It is so obvious that I cannot think of any other response. However, he does go on to say that finfish can impact shellfish harvesting. Yeah, so what? Where he totally loses me is indicating that there is a recreational yellowtail flounder (YTF) fishery in the Northeast. There is? I assume that a very, very few anglers actually catch YTF, but I do know of folks who have tried to jerk a few chains by saying that they are working on a way to target YTF with hook and line. Wouldn’t that be a shame, anglers taking a tiny portion of the 100 percent commercial YTF quota!
I know that Nils does not want to discuss the idea of revisiting any of the current allocations, but that might make some real sense. Perhaps a starting point would be to look at those stocks that currently have recreational and commercial allocations and revisiting the baseline historical catches with updated changes to those sector catch rates. From my standpoint, Mike Nussman did not imply that the recreational industry should get all the gumballs. He just implied that it would be nice to get a couple more.