Hundreds of representatives of the boating industry descended on Washington this week for the 2015 American Boating Congress.
As the industry’s annual legislative conference and premier lobbying effort, ABC is one of the industry’s best chances to shape the public policies that affect boating. ABC is organized by the National Marine Manufacturers Association, but is co-hosted by 35 other industry organizations, including Boating Industry.
“We need to unite the industry around advocacy,” said NMMA president Thom Dammrich. “Our industry is like an ecosystem. We’re made up of many different parts, but we’re all related. Anything that negatively affects any part of our industry is also eventually going to affect all of us.”
During the week, industry stakeholders made hundreds of visits to meet with elected officials, staff and agencies. Those Hill visits are key to getting the message out to policymakers about the issues important to boating, said Joan Maxwell, president of Regulator Marine and chair of the NMMA Executive Committee.
“The way that we make our voice heard is to keep coming and keep saying what we need Congress to hear,” she said.
Representatives advocate for the industry’s issues from ethanol to Magnuson-Stevens to the Sportfish and Boating Restoration and Trust Fund and more. It’s also an opportunity to continue to educate elected officials on the industry and it’s economic impact as a nearly $37 billion industry that employs more than 330,000 people. More than 95 percent of boats sold in the United States are made in the United States and 72 percent of boat owners have a household income of less than $100,000, according to NMMA figures.
“This is middle-class America enjoying a middle-class pastime, creating middle-class jobs for America,” Dammrich said.
Beyond the Hill meetings, ABC also features a line-up of speakers. This year’s keynote was delivered by David Gregory, former moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press.
Gregory talked of his experiences covering the presidency, and some of the significant events of the last 25 years, including 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing and the O.J. Simpson trial. He also discussed his faith and how rediscovering Judaism has helped him get through his struggles.
Several elected officials also addressed the conference, including Rep. Bob Wittman, R-Va. He warned of the importance of staying engaged on issues such as access and watching seemingly minor changes.
“Otherwise, it’s death by a thousand cuts,” Wittman said. “Then one day we wake up and see all this water that is not available for boating.”
Wittman also updated the audience on efforts to reauthorize Magnuson-Stevens, saying that leadership wants the bill on the House floor by late May or early June. Progress is being made, but changes to the bill continue.
“There are still some concerns,” he said. “We need to make sure good science is driving fishery management decisions.”
He also spoke of the tax reform efforts being led by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in an effort to address many of the business investment tax credits the industry’s manufacturers rely on when making certain research and capital investments.
“We have to get these decisions done long-term to create certainty for you and a benefit for you to invest and create jobs in your business,” Wittman said.
Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., and co-chair of the Congressional Boating Caucus emphasized the importance of educating officials on the issues important to boating.
“This is an industry we should all be proud of,” he said. “Not everyone [in Congress] has been on a boat, not everyone has been fishing, not everyone understands your industry. That’s why it’s important that you’re here talking about your issues.”
He also bemoaned the lack of bipartisanship, which he said has made it difficult to get much of anything done in Washington.
“This body’s job to create a climate that’s conducive to job growth. We have to come together to solve problems and at the end of the day that’s what matters,” Murphy said. “Right now there’s a mentality of my way or the highway. Don’t get 100 percent of what you want, shut it down.”
Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., and the other co-chair of the Congressional Boating Caucus, received the 2015 American Boating Congress Lifetime Achievement Award. Miller is retiring at the end of her current term.