5 Key Takeaways from the Sportfishing Summit

STEVENSON, Wa. — Some 200 members of the The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) gathered on the shores of the Columbia River at the organization’s annual Sportfishing Summit. If you’re a regular reader of FTR, you’ll recognize the ASA as the organization behind the industry’s largest trade show, ICAST. While ICAST garners headlines, the Sportfishing Summit—held annually several months after trade show fever has subsided—is just as significant for the future of fishing. At the Sportfishing Summit, power players from around the industry come out. Pure Fishing CEO Harlan Kent was in attendance, as were c-level delegates from PRADCO, Shimano, Big Rock Sports, and the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA). Joining them were leading tackle retailers from around the country, like Capt. Harry’s in Miami; Half Hitch Tackle in Destin, Florida; and online leader Tackle Direct. And you better believe there’s a reason for that.

The Sportfishing Summit is where the ASA Board of Directors votes on actionable items for the upcoming year—not only changes to ICAST, but overall policy directions that can influence everything from tackle prices to funding for fisheries management and congressional legislation. Here are our top takeaways from the event.

1. Forage fish conservation has become a critical issue

ASA policy experts are deeply concerned about the dangers a Trump administration repeal of the Clean Water Act poses to forage fish. That repeal went into place in September, and it effectively allows agricultural and industrial polluters to discharge potentially harmful substances into the majority of American streams and wetlands. “The little fish are the food that the big fish we care about eat,” said ASA Government Affairs Vice President Mike Leonard. “If we take the bottom part of the food web out, then the top part of the food web is no good. Right now, there is not really a framework for how those small fish are managed and served.”

2. The trade war with China is an industry challenge

In September, the White House announced an additional 10% tariff on $300 billion worth of Chinese imports, including fishing tackle. Leonard called the ongoing trade war with China a “tremendous threat” to ASA members and the sportfishing industry as a whole. “Fishing is already subject to a 10% excise tax,” noted Leonard. “The ASA supports the administration on other efforts, but not this particular one.”

The ASA is currently working feverishly to help manufacturers secure product exclusions for the tariffs; however, such exclusions are not guaranteed.

3. Excise tax dollars need to be reauthorized in 2020

The aforementioned excise tax on fishing tackle fuels about $600 million in federal funding each year. However, it’s no guarantee that that money will actually go back into fishing. Fishing’s excise tax is part of the 1984 Wallop-Breaux bill, also known as the Aquatic Trust Fund and the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program. According to the ASA, Wallop-Breaux’s reauthorization is actually packaged into a highway bill, which means careful political navigation is required to ensure fishing’s excise tax revenue actually goes back into fishing.

4. Pacific salmon are a big, dam deal for the ecosystem

The federal government appropriated approximately $85 million for Pacific salmon issues in 2019, and NOAA marine mammal experts were on hand to detail why—declining stocks of salmon are having a massive affect on the entire Pacific ecosystem. According to NOAA, the global population of orcas hovers somewhere around 50,000; but the killer whale population in Washington and Oregon is now just 74.

Those low numbers have a lot to do with Pacific salmon, a primary source of food for orcas. Pacific salmon have lost access to much of their breeding grounds due to hydroelectric projects. State management agencies in California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington are pumping out hatchery fish as quickly as possible, but the current situation still looks grim. According to experts, part of the solution lies in working with dams to increase spillage, thus reducing the number of salmon fatalities from facing turbines and packs of sea lions who have learned to swim upriver and prey on salmon waiting to navigate dams.

5. Amazon is coming

For the third year in a row, representatives from Amazon.com attended the Sportfishing Summit. Keynote speaker Peter Sheahan told a tragic tale from the grocery industry, in which multibillion dollar grocers Costco and Kroger saw their stocks tumble when Amazon acquired Whole Foods in 2017. These companies lost hundreds of millions of dollars in stock value in a single day. Their response? “We never saw it coming.”

Sheahan noted that Amazon was clueing grocers into its ambitions as early as 1999. The signs had been there for almost two decades, he declared. Let this be your notice, at some point Amazon is going to start taking fishing tackle very seriously. Is your business ready?