Responding to the administration’s intention to establish anew national policy to manage the nation’s ocean territory and the Great Lakes, today the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs held a hearing titled “Empty Hooks: The National Ocean Policy is the Latest Threat to Access for Recreational and Commercial Fishermen” to address how this new policy will impact recreational fishing’s access to our public waters.

Gary Zurn, senior vice-president of Big Rock Sports, LLC, headquartered in North Carolina, testified about the growing concern within the recreational fishing community about how increased fishing restrictions, regulations and closures, and the further uncertainty about the National Ocean Policy will impact the industry and the nation’s 13 million saltwater anglers. Zurn serves on the American Sportfishing Association’s (ASA) Board of Directors and is the Chairman of its Government Affairs Saltwater Committee.

“I’m here today to not only represent my company and our fifteen thousand outdoor sporting goods retailers, but also the millions of recreational anglers across the nation who are facing increasingly complex and restrictive fishing regulations, rising gas prices and unprecedented new threats to fishing access, particularly in our marine waters,” said Zurn in his testimony before Congress. “Fisheries and public waters are being closed at an alarming rate, and this has made the recreational fishing community increasingly sensitive to efforts to restrict our access to public lands and waters. Rather than providing an opportunity to expand and promote recreational fishing, anglers cannot help but view the National Ocean Policy, particularly the Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning process, as another effort to make public resources inaccessible to the people who help pay for their management and conservation.”

%pullstart%California has placed hundreds of square miles of the state’s most productive coastal waters off limits to recreational fishing through a spatial planning process. %pullend%On July 19, 2010, President Obama issued an Executive Order to establish anew national ocean policy for conserving and managing the United States ocean territory and the Great Lakes. Of particular interest to the recreational fishing community is a call within the National Ocean Policy for Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning, a process of planning where and how uses can take place in the ocean and Great Lakes. Since the release of this policy, ASA and others in the recreational fishing and boating community have continuously expressed concerns about how recreational access will be treated in the planning process. Despite continued comments by ASA and the recreational fishing community, the policy does not adequately acknowledge the important economic, social and conservation values of recreational fishing.

“Since the onset of the ocean policy planning process, the recreational fishing and boating community has provided substantial input to the administration advocating that the social, economic, public health and conservation benefits of sustainable recreational use of our nation’s public resources receive priority consideration in the new coastal and ocean management policy,” said ASA Vice President Gordon Robertson. “Closing our public resources to recreational activities can have a devastating impact on businesses and livelihoods that are dependent on those activities. We need to ensure that our public resources remain open for American families to experience these recreational pursuits consistent with conservation goals and with the administration’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative.”

Zurn cited areas such as California’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) and Biscayne National Park, the nation’s largest urban recreation area located in Miami, Fla., where unwarranted no-fishing zones have been proposed despite strong opposition from the recreational fishing community. Through the MLPA process, California has placed hundreds of square miles of the state’s most productive coastal waters off limits to recreational fishing through a spatial planning process. Zurn urged the administration to avoid this when contemplating coastal and marine spatial planning on a national level.

“It is our hope that the administration will assure that ocean planning will not result in more fishing closures, but rather follow the lead of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Washington State which elevated the status of recreational fishing in their planningprocesses. We do not want to see the administration follow the contentious and unproductive path that California has taken,” concluded Zurn.