PETE BEACH, Fla. — The ASA Sportfishing Summit is a gathering of fishing’s leaders, aspiring leaders, insiders and cognoscenti. It’s where the American Sportfishing Association huddles to assess the past year and plan for the next.
Day one kicked off with a surprise guest and speaker, Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) who is running for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio. Jolly has served in the House of Representatives less than two years and criticized the “do nothing” Congress and elected officials who mistake their election results for subject matter expertise on all issues, saying “Who better than the people in this room to influence the way our fisheries are managed?”
Jolly was bleak in his assessment of Washington’s grasp of sportfishing issues, noting “There are only about 10 people in Congress who understand fisheries,” and urged those in the room and others involved in the industry all around the country to make their voices heard.
“We need stronger voices from the fishing community. Some of the strongest voices we hear come from environmentalists,” Jolly said, noting that the angling community and environmentalists often hold opposing views when it comes to resources and management.
It’s a common refrain from Washington and policymakers and legislators everywhere, but one worth hearing again. Cumulatively, anglers can make a difference, but only if we are heard, if our numbers are strong and if politicians and bureaucrats are listening. And, of course, if our numbers are large enough and we speak with a unified voice, they will have to listen.
Where’s the Beef?
After breakfast, the Summit breaks up into several committee meetings — Government Affairs (lobbying), Membership, Consumer Shows and Communications. Unfortunately, these committees meet simultaneously so attendance in one means you miss the others.
One of the “hot button” topics of the Communications Committee, led by Chairman John Mazurkiewicz of Catalyst Marketing Services, was the fee charged to media to attend ICAST 2015 ($100). It was instituted to eliminate some of the less-credentialed media who attended the show in 2014 — labelled as “glorified consumers.”
The fee system seems to have worked. There were approximately 1,100 “media” attendees in 2014 and 653 in 2015 — a number that more closely approximates media attendance in the years before 2014. Of course, a drop in media numbers doesn’t seem like a good thing on its face, but exhibitors reported better media experiences in 2015 and the smaller number means exhibitors had more opportunities to meet with buyers.
ASA reports there were 12,053 people at ICAST 2015 — the largest number ever — and that 60 percent of that number were “attendees” (non-exhibitors).
What is the Fishing Brand?
Mike Nussman, president and CEO of ASA, led a series of ASA comments addressing the question: What is the brand of fishing?
He began by addressing the numbers: 554 million fishing days in the U.S. annually — 82 percent of those in freshwater. License sales and excise taxes fund most of the fishing conservation efforts across the country. Of the 18 percent of fishing days spent on saltwater, almost all of it is done in state waters within three miles of the shore, where anglers must purchase licenses.
Nussman and ASA conclude that the fishing brand is strong and positive in freshwater and inshore saltwater, but not as good offshore where anglers compete on some level with commercial fishing and often run up against the large, well-funded environmental lobbies and their political agendas.