At this year’s Miami International Boat Show, the American Sportfishing Association unveiled its new Keep Florida Fishing initiative with the goal of “clean waters, abundant fisheries and access to both.”
“There are more than 3 million resident and visiting anglers, who support more than 80,000 jobs in the state, with $8.7 billion in economic output. Yet, there are numerous efforts that, if successful, would severely restrict access to recreational anglers. Simply put, Florida is the 'Fishing Capital of the World,' and we want to keep it that way,” said Glenn Hughes, ASA’s vice president of industry relations.
The effort came from the ASA board’s desire to protect the industry’s ability to do business in Florida, as it saw those opportunities being threatened by groups that want to limit access, said Glenn Hughes, vice president of industry relations.
“We want anglers to have the ability to go fishing and boaters to go boating around our Florida waters and we want to support the conservation efforts,” Hughes said. “We didn’t want to have what happened in California starting in 2008 with marine protected areas that stopped fishermen from being able to fish in certain parts of California. We didn’t want to have that happen in Florida.”
To support that effort, which is part of the larger Keep America Fishing campaign, ASA hired two new, Florida-based employees to advocate for the industry: Gary Jennings as Keep Florida Fishing manager and Kellie Ralston as Florida fisheries policy director.
“Keep Florida Fishing gives a voice for people who love to fish in Florida by providing the information and resources to anglers and industry leaders to get engaged and become vocal about issues that affect access to recreational fishing and related industries. Florida is the Fishing Capital of the World because of Florida’s anglers,” Jennings said.
Keep America Fishing was launched in 2010 to combat access restrictions around the country, but especially in California. The effort now has an email database of more than 900,000 people receiving its messages, helping to shape local and national policy.
While the economic impact of fishing in Florida is significant, Keep Florida Fishing is also emphasizing the desire of anglers to protect the waters off the state.
“We’re also trying to raise awareness of how recreational fishing in Florida is not only big business, but also that anglers care about conservation,” Jennings said. “Anglers are involved in conservation, we want our fisheries to be healthy and be there for our kids and future generations to enjoy.”
A current threat that Keep Florida Fishing is fighting are proposals by Our Florida Reefs, which seeks to close off large areas of the ocean near southeast Florida to recreational fishing and nominate the entire area as a national marine sanctuary, among other restrictions. Keep Florida Fishing feels that anglers are being unfairly blamed for issues with the reefs when it is due more to water quality issues from nitrates and other chemicals, Jennings said.
"We're trying to make sure that they understand that the [Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission] does a very good job managing fisheries around the state, both fresh and saltwater, and the FWC needs to be the government entity that managed those fisheries," Jennings said. "We don't want them to cede control over to the federal government regarding fisheries issues in state waters."
ASA is urging everyone in the industry to become involved in the campaign and get educated on the issues.
“It’s not just people that are in Florida,” Hughes said. “It’s the people that are building these boats all around the country, because everyone does business in Florida.”
Read more about Keep Florida Fishing at KeepFloridaFishing.org.