Like those of us born in the baby boom generation, fishing has aged. We can see its vulnerabilities, even as we assess our own.
But unlike us, fishing can endure. If we protect that which we profess to love so much, and if we pass that stewardship on to our children and our children's children, fishing will enrich lives for centuries to come.
If we don't, fishing will join us in the grave. During this complex age, it faces too many threats to survive undefended.
The greatest threat lies in declining participation. Anglers, resource managers and industry spokesmen are unanimous on that point. This primary threat, they add, feeds and magnifies many of the other dangers. Increase participation, they explain, and many threats will disappear.
"With participation comes a natural affinity for people to become conservationists; with participation comes an amplified interest in exercising rights as voters … with participation comes a healthy, sustained contribution to state and federal budgets for fisheries and wildlife via license sales and Wallop-Breaux monies," says Alan McGuckin, an avid angler as well as marketing manager for Terminator/SnapBack Lures.
"It's been my observation that most people — when exposed to fishing the right way, with time left for learning and lots of patience — truly develop a passion for it," he continues. "I'm convinced most kids would gladly give up video games and soccer practice in exchange for spending time with a loved one at a favorite fishing hole."
Potomac River guide Steve Chaconas adds, "The problem is that the parents and the kids, not being involved in fishing, won't feel the need to protect or promote fishing. It is up to those who fish to get the kids involved. Fishermen need to take the time to take someone else — friends or kids — fishing."
Increasing participation not only will help fishing, but society in general, say veteran anglers.
"A lot of the problems we see in our children today are caused by a lack of something better to do with their time as well as a lack of caring supervision," says Bruce Holt, public relations spokesman for G. Loomis. "Take away the temptation and replace it with a fishing rod, and you'll go a long way toward reducing drug problems, crime and other issues our kids face today. While country kids are more inclined to take on fishing or hunting as a hobby, we still need the commitment from parents and fishing industry participants to make things better — in the city, as well."
Next to declining participation, the greatest threat lies with our water - both its quality and quantity.
"We've dealt with point-source pollution, but not runoff," says Jim Martin, conservation director for Pure Fishing. "It's been recognized as a major problem for 30 years, but there is no strategy that is working.
"Watershed councils and the Fishable Waters Act are the bright spots," he continues. "We have to get communities working together and looking ahead. Unless we do that, we won't get ahead of the problems anytime soon."
Martin says he sees "ferocious wars" looming over water allocation. "And I don't see fish coming out on top."
Bruce Shupp, national conservation director for BASS, adds, "The greatest threat of the decade is competition for water — both uses for it and uses on it. For anglers, this translates into the need to get involved in the processes that decide the fate of their local waters."For industry, it means elevating the priority of sportfishing and then shamelessly advocating for it."Participation, then, is the key for protecting water as well as countering many of the other threats.
"We need a lobbyist group in Washington to fight for us in our effort to preserve fishing," says Jack Trahan, an activist who has been working to preserve angling rights on Colorado River impoundments.
"Indifference is the only threat to the future of fishing," offers Richard Wehnes of the Missouri Department of Conservation. "If people don't care whether there are diverse aquatic habitats, great fishing opportunities, or places to go just to recharge their emotional batteries, or if they don't care that development will harm a nearby stream, or that sewage or heavy metals cause water and fish contamination problems … then anything we do will be for naught.
"It's all about people. They have to care."
Decline In Overall Participation
Fewer fishermen translate into fewer dollars for sustaining and enhancing fisheries, and less political clout for clean water and the quality of life that goes with it.
This problem is being addressed by Water Works Wonders, an industry-driven program designed to reconnect families through fishing and boating. (Check out www.WaterWorksWonders.org for more information.)
Anglers can help by taking friends and family members fishing.
Angler Apathy And Lack Of Understanding Regarding Issues
Developers, industry and government have an easier time destroying fisheries when no one stands up for clean water, wetlands and other natural resources.
Anglers must educate themselves and get involved. One of the best ways to do this is to join organizations such as BASS and Trout Unlimited.
Cumbersome regulations regarding limits, seasons and locations discourage participation. So, too, does the hassle of obtaining a license — especially an out-of-state license.
Resource managers must clarify and simplify (while following sound science) regulations. They also must make obtaining a license a less painful process.
Public Health Advisories
Even though most bass and trout anglers release their catches, many fishermen still like knowing they can keep a few fish for the table. When that choice is taken away by consumption advisories, some stop fishing.
When consumption advisories must be issued, they should be clear and concise. More importantly, anglers must pressure government to clean up and prevent the pollution that makes these advisories necessary.
Attempts To Divert Wallop-Breaux Money
Federal legislators periodically try to divert money from this successful user-pays, user-profits program that sends more than $300 million in excise taxes annually to the states for fisheries management. Loss of any of this money would be catastrophic, as W-B is a primary funding source for state agencies.
The American Sportfishing Association, BASS and other angling organizations must be eternally vigilant to protect this program, and they must do a better job of educating the public about the value of W-B, also known as the Sport Fish Restoration Program.
Water Level Manipulation During Spawning Seasons
Suddenly lowering or raising lake levels during the middle of the spawn can destroy an entire year-class of bass and other gamefish.
Power companies and other managers of reservoirs must consider spawning seasons as they manipulate lake levels for flood control, hydropower generation and other purposes.
Increasing Demand For Limited Water
Fisheries will suffer as our limited supply of fresh water is subjected to ever increasing demands and diverted for other uses.
Again, anglers must participate. They must voice their opinions regarding allocations. They must join watershed councils, which often make decisions regarding how water will be used.
Coldwater species will be squeezed farther north as climate warms. Bass in southern latitudes will become stressed and more subject to disease because of higher water temperatures. More intense droughts and floods will damage fisheries nationwide.
We must reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. And particularly in drought-stricken areas of the country, we must reduce wasteful water practices.
Polluted runoff from farms and cities is the primary reason that 40 percent of our waters still are unsafe for fishing and swimming.
We need passage of the Fishable Waters Act, which addresses this problem through the formation of watershed councils.
Sediment smothers shallow water spawning and nursery habitat as vegetated buffer zones along edges of lakes and rivers are destroyed.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Tennessee Valley Authority, power companies and other land/water managers must enforce regulations to protect shorelines.
Shopping malls, parking lots and other developments are claiming an estimated 365 acres of forest, farmland and other open spaces per hour. This intensifies runoff pollution and limits recharge of groundwater supplies.
Cities should start practicing "smart growth" — building mostly in areas where people already live and work, instead of sprawling into undeveloped areas.
In-Stream Gravel Mining
Habitat is destroyed not only in areas mined, but also for miles downstream. Additionally, flow is altered and water warms, destroying the stream's ecosystem.
State agencies must have the will to control and limit mining, and anglers must lobby their legislators to support such restrictions.
Altered Flows In Rivers And Streams
Water becomes oxygen-poor when flow is diminished, and fish kills often occur. Rivers downstream of dams sometimes dry up during summer and/or become uninhabitable.
When making decisions regarding flows, reservoir managers must consider the value of recreation and the needs of fish and wildlife, along with flood control, navigation, water supply and power generation. Anglers should make certain that they do.
Runoff pollution from farms has degraded thousands of miles of streams and killed millions of fish.
While some factory farms do a good job of policing themselves, others require closer scrutiny and regulation by federal and state governments.
Closures To Create Preserves
Anglers are denied access to public waters.
Time after time, fisheries have rebounded not because of closures, but because of harvest restrictions. Anglers must demand that officials look at the science of harvesting when considering such actions.
Decline In Youth Fishing
Fewer youngsters fishing today will mean fewer adults fishing tomorrow. That will lead to the worsening of the problems listed above. It also will mean more adults of tomorrow will have no connection to nature and no appreciation for the values and ethics it inspires.
Adult anglers should take a more active role in organizing fishing clubs and outings through schools, scouts, 4-H and other organizations. (One of the best is Tulsa's Fishin' Pals, www.fishinpals.homestead.com. BASS Federation members should encourage their clubs to conduct youth activities and form Junior clubs.
Loss of Farm Ponds
Thousands of acres of pond fisheries are lost as
traditional family farms are consolidated into corporate farms, or ponds
are diverted into aquaculture.
Local, state and federal agencies must replace these
child-friendly fisheries with small lakes in parks and on other public
Loss Of Genetic Diversity Of Bass Populations
Indiscriminate stocking can weaken the genetics of native
fish populations and make them less healthy.
Resource managers should consider both geographic origins
and genetics when stocking fish.
Largemouth Bass Virus and Whirling Disease are but two
diseases that are damaging fisheries nationwide.
Scientists must receive adequate funding to research
origins and causes of these diseases. Anglers can help minimize impacts by
not moving fish or water from one fishery to another.
Hydrilla, Eurasian milfoil and other non-native plants
provide good fish cover, but they also impede boating, swimming and other
outdoor recreation. When they cause problems, they must be "managed,"
either by chemicals, grass carp or other means. Fish and fishermen
typically lose out when this happens, and too often, more plants are
killed than is necessary.
Anglers should understand that controls in some waters are
needed, and they should realize they aren't the only users of a
resource. But they also should make certain that their opinions are heard
by decision-makers, and they should hold officials accountable for
whatever actions are taken. In addition, resource managers should continue
projects that replace problematic invasive plants with beneficial native
Invasive Fish And Other Aquatic Species
Snakehead, bighead carp, round goby, zebra mussel. The list
seems endless, and probably is. Invasive species compete with natives for
food and habitat, possibly crowding some ever closer to extinction.
Regulatory agencies have done a poor job of protecting our
waters. We must force oceangoing ships to sterilize or exchange their
ballast water at sea before entering the Great Lakes, San Francisco Bay
and other U.S. waters. We must deny the importation and movement across
state lines of potentially dangerous fish and animals.
Concerns About Pollution From Outboard Motors
The 2-cycle engine is a threatened species, as
environmental groups, such as the Bluewater Network, lobby against its use
on state and federal waters.
Fishermen should demand that sound science, rather than
shrill rhetoric, dictate decisions regarding restrictions on outboard
Loss Of Public Access
Anglers are denied access to public waters.
State and federal agencies must
protect public access to public waters in places where private landowners
are illegally denying access. In addition, state agencies must receive
adequate funding so they can obtain and maintain public access to rivers
Anglers are denied the freedom to fish tournaments on
Anglers must work with state wildlife
agencies to ensure tournaments are allowed on public waters. They should
be flexible as to dates and be willing to compromise regarding tournament
specifics. But they should not be denied. Tournament anglers have as much
right to be on the water as anyone else.
Concerns About Littering
Whether they deserve it or not, anglers are the ones
increasingly blamed for the litter that fouls our lakes, rivers and
beaches. As a result, "anti-angler" sentiment is on the rise.
Anglers not only should not litter, they should lead the
way in cleaning up our waterways. Also, bass clubs and other fishing
organizations should promote their cleanup efforts and other good works
Bass anglers sometimes act as if they own the water,
creating resentment from dock owners and other fishermen. Driving bass
boats too fast and too close to other boaters also breeds contempt.
Bass boaters must learn to be considerate of the rights of
others. Competitive anglers, especially, should be mindful of boat wakes.
Tournament organizers and competitors should police their own ranks.
Concerns About Safe Boating
As a limited resource becomes more and more crowded with
boaters of all kinds, "road rage" inevitably will occur on the water.
This, along with litter and outboard emissions, will give the anti-angling
crowd more ammunition.
With codes of ethics and safe-boating classes and
materials, angling organizations must do all they can to ensure that their
members are models of good behavior. In addition, states should require
safety courses for all who operate boats.
Animal rights activists have done little to stop fishing
thus far. But the potential for problems is there, as participation
dwindles and a growing segment of the population doesn't understand the
intrinsic and cultural value of fishing.
Anglers, resource managers and industry must work together
to increase participation and educate the public, especially children,
about the social and economic value of recreational angling.
Timber left as fish habitat is disappearing in the many
impoundments built during the 1970s and before.
Putting in brushpiles will not be enough to replace what is
being lost. Resource managers must find more innovative solutions, from
planting beneficial vegetation to building artificial reefs and anchoring
trees selectively cut from nearby shorelines.
Endangered Species Act
Angling and hunting programs suffer because resource
agencies must divert money and staff for the protection of threatened and
Endangered and threatened species should be protected, but
not at the expense of traditional fish and game management. Through the
Conservation Trust Fund and other programs, Congress must allocate more
money to protect and enhance habitat for nongame species.
Insufficient Funding For State Agencies
No money means no management. That means agencies can't
educate, can't conduct research, can't sustain and enhance fisheries,
and can't maintain and expand access areas.
Wallop-Breaux and license fees don't
provide state agencies with enough money to operate, and legislatures
rarely are willing to assist. States should follow the Missouri example.
In 1976, citizens there voted to allocate 1/8 of 1 percent of sales tax to
conservation. As a result, Missouri's Department of Conservation today
avoids the financial crises that agencies in other states face.
Failure To Pass The Fishable Waters Act
We continue to see fisheries degraded by runoff pollution,
and we see battles heating up over ever shrinking water supplies.
Anglers must pressure Congress to pass the FWA, which would
provide funding for watershed councils. With voluntary input from anglers,
agricultural interests and others, these councils would develop fisheries
improvement programs and plans for equitable distribution of water.
Failure To Reauthorize The Clean Water Act
A decade overdue for reauthorization, the Clean Water Act
is under constant assault by those who want to weaken it. Also, it does
not deal adequately with polluted runoff, which is now the most pressing
water quality problem.
Conservationists and environmentalists must lobby Congress
for a new and stronger Clean Water Act that addresses runoff pollution and
contains fewer loopholes.
Policies Based On Politics Instead Of Sound Science
These policies are made by political
appointees who care more about pleasing superiors and appeasing
constituents than conserving the resource. As a result, fisheries decline
because of poor management.
Once again, involvement is the key. Anglers must voice
their displeasure with this growing trend and insist that their public
resources be managed by wildlife professionals.
Fishing boats are unjustly included with these noisy irritants by groups that want to establish quiet zones or primitive areas on public waters.
Anglers must distance themselves from personalized watercraft, and they must lobby to keep waters open for fishing.