The boating industry heads to the nation’s capital
This year’s American Boating Congress kicks off May 9 and offers the boating industry a chance to shape the debate in an important election year.
As in the past, dozens of industry associations are supporting this year’s ABC, with 35 co-hosts, including Boating Industry, as of March.
ABC 2016 will be May 9-11 at the Renaissance Washington D.C. Downtown Hotel.
“This is the best opportunity to have your issues and your industry heard on Capitol Hill,” said Nicole Vasilaros, vice president of federal and legal affairs at the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which organizes ABC. “In an election year, it is a prime opportunity to hear from elected officials that are running for office, to make sure that they understand the concerns the boating industry has.”
While the details weren’t quite finished as we prepared this issue, several successful components from past shows will be returning, including hill visits, issue briefings and insight from regulatory and elected officials.
Election year focus
ABC 2016 will also have, for the first time, two keynote speakers with the experience to highlight the upcoming presidential election. Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson will offer insight from both sides of the aisle, Vasilaros said.
“It should be a lively and interesting debate,” she said. “The thought was let’s bring them both and have them argue it out and discuss what they’re seeing and give that inside-the-Beltway knowledge. People come to D.C. in an election year, they want to know, ‘Who do you think is going to win the presidency?’ or ‘Who do you think is going to win the Senate?’ That’s why we wanted our speakers to have that background to reflect the questions that we know people are dying to ask.”
Begala is a Democratic strategist and political contributor for CNN. He was one of the chief strategists on Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and served in the Clinton administration. He has written several books and is currently an affiliated professor at Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute.
Carlson is the co-host of Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends Weekend and editor-in-chief of The Daily Caller, a political news website. He has also worked for CNN, MSNBC and PBS, among other media outlets.
Carlson and Begala will kick off the line-up of speakers on Wednesday, May 11.
Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., a member of the Boating Caucus, has also been confirmed as a speaker.
“He’s been a great boating and fishing advocate and instrumental on red snapper issues,” Vasilaros said.
Other speakers will be similar to past ABCs, which have included senators and House members, Coast Guard officials and other policymakers.
(Editor's note: Additional speakers were confirmed after this issue went to press, including Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla.; Rep. Garret Graves, R-La.; and Capt. Verne Gifford, director, inspections and compliance of the U.S. Coast Guard.)
ABC attendees will also have the opportunity to have visits scheduled with members of the House of Representatives and Senate. In order to make the hill meetings even more beneficial, this year the ABC team is working to have those visits done by groups with similar regional or state-focused concerns. That will help to make the visits more impactful and allow the elected officials and staff to hear more perspectives.
Recognizing that making hill visits can be an intimidating experience for first-timers, ABC will offer several opportunities to get prepared this year.
Once again, NMMA will host a pre-ABC webinar to go over key issues, but will also offer a more specific webinar for new attendees, walking them through the process and giving them more guidance before they get to town. That help will continue in Washington.
“Once everybody is in D.C. we’ll have a [session] on effective lobbying, going through policies and procedures on Capitol Hill, how to conduct a meeting, what to say,” Vasilaros said.
New this year, the Tuesday luncheon will be a networking opportunity, but also a chance to prepare for those hill visits.
“We’ll group everyone together by their hill teams, providing a little more information than in years past,” Vasilaros said. “You’ll know not only who you’re meeting with, but also what committees they sit on, important legislation that we want to make sure you bring up with them, a little more tailored information to your hill meetings.”
This year’s ABC will also reflect the broader reach of the conference, with more industry groups than ever before getting involved. Most notably, the American Sportfishing Association and the Center for Coastal Conservation will be hosting their “fly-ins” that week as well, bringing their members to D.C. for lobbying and outreach.
The groups have long been “strong partners” and co-hosting the events shows the combined strength of the recreational boating and fishing industries, said Glenn Hughes, ASA’s vice president of industry relations.
Key issues for 2016
Introduced last year, the issue briefings proved to be popular and will be back for 2016. Tentative topics for those sessions include trade, fishing, ethanol, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), invasive species, access, workforce development and more.
Those same issues will continue to be important as the calendar moves beyond ABC as well. While NMMA is hopeful some of the industry’s goals can get accomplished this year, the compressed calendar of an election year always makes things more difficult, both before and after November.
“A lot is going to depend on the election,” Vasilaros said. “They’re really only here until June, then a couple of weeks between summer and the election. It will largely depend if a Republican or Democrat takes over the White House or what the control of the Senate is going to be for what gets done in a lame duck session.”
One key issue for the last several years has been ethanol, with NMMA and other industry groups working to reform or repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard in an effort to keep E15 out of the market. The presidential election and Iowa caucuses have helped focus more attention on the issue this year.
“We’re really trying to ride that momentum on the issue through this summer,” Vasilaros said. “There’s a chance that small ethanol reform changes are possible. A big overhaul of the RFS in an election year … the calendar is shortened and the time is probably not there. … But increased education, some halting of the corn ethanol mandate, those are things that we can maybe see as viable.”
NMMA will also continue to work on Magnuson-Stevens reform, which has seen some action in the House, but little in the Senate. Trade also continues to be important, with many in the industry arguing for the ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, trade agreements with countries in the Pacific Rim and Europe, respectively.
The WRDA is due for reauthorization this year, as well.
“We definitely think we’ll get a WRDA bill this year,” Vasilaros said. “Whether it gets done before May seems unlikely, but we’ll continue to work on that through the summer to make sure there are some important projects that get done for the industry.”
Keep Florida Fishing
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.”
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.
About 3 million people go fishing in Florida every year and they support $8.6 billion in economic activity and more than 80,000 jobs, Jennings said.
“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,” he said. “Anglers are involved in conservation, we want our fisheries to be healthy and be there for our kids and future generations to enjoy.”
One current threat that KFF is fighting are proposals by a group called Our Florida Reefs, which is seeking to close off large areas of the ocean near Southeast Florida to recreational fishing in order to protect reefs in the area.
KFF 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.
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.”