With more than 250 industry stakeholders in attendance -- an increase of 20 percent from 2015 -- the 2016 American Boating Congress wrapped up a successful series of meetings, speakers and Hill visits Wednesday.
NMMA President Thom Dammrich kicked off Wednesday's speaker lineup with a welcome address, noting the importance of advocacy in making sure the industry's issues are heard on Capitol Hill.
ABC is organized by the NMMA and co-hosted by nearly 40 industry companies and associations, including Boating Industry.
ABC is an "important and valuable tool to educate Congress and influence policy and activate change that is good for our industry," he said. "We know that recreation is a significant economic driver of our economy and that fishing and boating are a significant part of that."
Advocacy does work, Dammrich said, pointing to a top 10 list of industry accomplishments since ABC 2015:
- Reauthorization of the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund
- Passed legislation to fix model year definition
- Passed legislation to update engine weight regulations
- Passed legislation in House to prohibit implementation of marine reserve at Biscayne National Park and introduced companion legislation in Senate
- Delayed HFC-134 foam regulations for recreational craft until 2020
- Passed Magnuson Stevens Act bill in House
- Merged with MRAA to form stronger BoatPAC
- Reauthorized Ex-Import Bank until 2019
- Added 21 new members to the Congressional Boating Caucus
- Enabled recreational vessel travel to Cuba
"Advocacy does work and here is the proof," he said.
Going forward, Dammrich identified the top five legislative priorities for NMMA and the industry this year: ethanol, recreational fishing, the Water Resources & Development Act, trade and access.
Dammrich also recognized several companies for their work to promote BoatPAC, the industry's political action committee
- Ambassadors for Advocacy: Intrepid Power Boats – largest percentage of employees contributing through payroll deduction
- Influencers for Advancement: Norcross Marine Products – greatest increase in contributions
- Champions for Growth: Chaparral Boats - highest average contribution
Wednesday's agenda also included a number of speakers from the world of politics, regulatory agencies and the media.
The keynote speakers were Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson, representing both sides of the aisle. Begala is a Democratic strategist and political contributor for CNN, while Carlson is the co-host of Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends Weekend and editor-in-chief of The Daily Caller.
Both Begala and Carlson talked about how the success of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders represents a rebellion by the voters of both parties against the status quo.
The media and political establishment missed the story because they were focused on the candidates, not the voters, Carlson said.
"It’s not about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders," he said. "It’s about the people. Voters are so mad they just nominated Donald Trump."
Both Sanders and Trump are tapping a fear in the middle class that it is being left behind.
"Bernie Sanders’ message is one that looks a lot like Donald Trump’s," Begala said. "Their solutions are different, but their diagnosis of the problem is the same."
Carlson urged the industry to take its issues to legislators and remember that "they work for you."
Begala, an avid fisherman, noted the important role of boating in recreation and the economy and said it was important to push the industry's agenda.
"You make life worth living," he said. "If you can get on a boat, it’s a good day. You ought to be damn proud of what you’re doing."
That was sentiment repeated by many of the speakers during the program.
"I have to ask all of you to become stronger voices for the wellbeing of the bodies of water that you work on that, that you enjoy, that you love," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. "If you’re not going to lobby for the wellbeing of our lakes and oceans, who else will? … Please make it an important part of your portfolio to make sure that Congress looks out for our oceans and coasts."
Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., agreed, noting the importance of getting issues like a longer red snapper season for recreational fishing addressed.
"One of the things I really want to get back is a snapper season in this country," he said, adding that issues like that matter to everyone in the industry, no matter where they boat and fish.
"What they did to us, they can do to you, regardless of where you are," he said. "The people in your industry have got to stand up for your clients. It’s going to take the marine industry to stand up for your rights and to do it."
Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., said the red snapper issue is an example of how the federal government uses "inferior science" to make its decisions and that it takes industry experts to show that you can preserve nature and continue to enjoy fishing and hunting.
"You understand the importance and connectivity of habitat and sustainability," Graves said. "Thank you for coming up here and educating people. You are the ones who are the experts and if you don’t come up here and share that knowledge with us, we’re going to continue to make stupid decisions."
Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., urged those in the industry to reach out to their elected officials at home as well as in D.C.
"Invite people to your facility, show them around," he said. "It's a great way [for them] to see your business and your issues."
Marcus Jadotte, assistant secretary of commerce, said boating is an important part of the U.S. economy, noting that 95 percent of boats sold in the United States are made here.
"You make a huge contribution to Americana, but you also make a huge contribution to the economy of the United States," he said.
Jadotte also asked the industry to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying it was important for the growth of U.S manufacturing.
"TPP is an opportunity to set the rules for trade in Asia," he said. "If the agreement does not go into force, China will eventually set the rules in Asia."