Preliminary Data Shows How Much Outdoor Recreation Economy Has Been Affected by COVID-19
As part of any economic recovery effort, Congress must invest in conservation that puts Americans back to work
On our social media channels, we’ve shared plenty of news stories that highlight the enthusiastic use of public lands and even an uptick in fishing participation during this pandemic. But, of course, it’s not all good news.
According to respondents from 20 national outdoor recreation trade associations representing businesses with nearly 2 million employees, 89 percent of businesses are experiencing difficulty with production and distribution. A troubling 79 percent of these businesses have laid off or furloughed a portion of their workforce. And 89 percent of these businesses are experiencing a decrease in sales.
And the outdoor sector isn’t the only one feeling the pinch. The leisure and hospitality industry has been hammered the hardest, with a loss of 7 million jobs between March and May. More than 2 million engineers and temporary workers in construction and professional services were sent home since COVID hit.
These jobs will help to paint a brighter economic picture than what we are seeing today. Imagine people in hardhats building highway crossings for wildlife, engineers and technical experts designing resilient and efficient water systems for the Colorado River and Mississippi River Basins, loggers helping to actively manage our forests, and heavy equipment operators preparing the ground for wetland restoration.
When Congress pivots to drafting economic recovery legislation, we want to put Americans back to work restoring our wetlands and forests, improving our coasts and waterways, and rebuilding the crumbling pieces of our outdoor recreation infrastructure.
As hunters and anglers, we need these investments in conservation so we can continue to enjoy our outdoor activities. As Americans, we need these investments because we need to put our nation back to work.
Five Things Your Fishing License Does for Conservation While You Catch Fish
These are your license dollars at work for fish habitat, water quality, and the next generation of anglers
When you buy or renew your fishing license, you’re probably only thinking about the possibility of the new season or a great day on the water. But are you aware of just how hard your license dollars are working on behalf of fish habitat and fishing access?
Here are five examples of how the a portion of the dollars spent on your fishing licenses, boat registrations, fishing gear, and boat fuel purchases go back to conservation and public access. You might be surprised—as much as $1.1 billion annually creates a sizeable down payment on the future of fishing in America.
Improving Fishing and Boating Access
First, funds from license sales go toward fishing and boating access projects. One example is the Ramps & Pier Program in Mississippi, which helps pay for repairs to existing access points and the construction of four to six new boat ramps each year. The state of Oregon also has an excellent model of involving state and federal agencies in adding and upgrading new boating facilities.
Enhancing Water Quality
Boat registration funds help implement clean water projects that benefit fish habitat and improve the experience of anglers and boaters. The Clean Vessel Act program in Hawaii, for example, helped use these funds to construct a new sewage pump-out station and three new floating restrooms at the Haleiwa Small Boat Harbor—all in an effort to protect the sparkling turquoise waters of Hawaii for future generations.
Maintaining Fish Habitat
The excise taxes on your fishing gear go toward fisheries maintenance projects that help manage our state sport fisheries. For example, in New York State, biologists collect data through creel surveys and work to restore fish habitat for native brookies, American shad, river herring, and striped bass largely thanks to the taxes paid by the manufacturers of your fishing rods, reels, lures, baits, and flies. In Massachusetts, these funds are used to map fish habitat with GPS technology, sonar, and underwater vehicles through the state’s Fisheries Habitat Program. The more these experts learn, the better prepared they are to spot habitat issues and plan for improvements.
Teaching and Recruiting New Anglers
Fishing license funds also go to work for educational and recruitment programs that introduce new anglers to the sport. As more people take up fishing, there is a greater need for education on topics like species identification, conservation, regulations, and proper catch-and-release techniques. The state of Texas offers free workshops for first-timers or anyone who wants a refresher on the basics, and the saltwater angler education programs hosted by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries have been so successful that they hope to extend courses to all coastal areas of the state.
Planning for Long-Term Conservation
With an eye toward investing in our marine and freshwater resources, as well as the next generation of anglers, fishing license fees support long-term conservation plans for our rivers and streams. This robust funding, which has nothing to do with the federal balance sheet, is critical to ensuring an adequate quantity and quality of water to maintain the natural balance of aquatic ecosystems. Texas has used this money to fund its River Studies Program that addresses long-term water development, water planning, and water quality issues.
Whether state agencies are studying rainbow trout populations or repairing boat ramps, your license fees are put to excellent use. Want to get started on your next fishing trip and give back to conservation? Buy or renew your license here.
TakeMeFishing.org contributor Debbie Hanson is an outdoor writer and avid angler who has written articles on fishing and boating for publications such as USA Today Hunt & Fish and Game & Fish Magazine. She is a member of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Read her blogs at takemefishing.org/blog and visit her personal blog at shefishes2.com.
Photos courtesy of Canstock Photo. This blog was originally posted August 14, 2017 and has been updated.
PA Sportsmen and Women Urge Lawmakers Not to Abandon Job-Creating Conservation Projects
State budgets may be stretched thin, but now is not the time to borrow from successful conservation funding initiatives
You only need to walk into a tackle shop on a typical Saturday morning to understand that Pennsylvania’s enviable natural resources are directly tied to outdoor recreation spending and jobs. Both the beauty of our lands and waters and strength of our outdoor recreation industry are particularly meaningful in the midst of a health and unemployment crisis.
But we wouldn’t have these benefits without investments in conservation.
Right now, we’re pushing back on legislation that would disrupt the flow of funds to critical job-creating conservation projects. Across the country, state budgets are being stretched by the COVID-19 response, but this is not the time to balance the budget with cuts to conservation. Here’s why we’re fighting this in PA.
A Track Record of Success
Twenty years ago, the Growing Greener Program was signed into law, securing the investment of $650 million in the state’s natural resources over five years. Today, the state’s Keystone Fund and Environmental Stewardship Fund help to restore and conserve lands and waters that power Pennsylvania’s $26.9-billion outdoor recreation industry.
The diverse businesses in PA’s outdoor recreation sector support more than 390,000 jobs and almost $17 billion in salaries and wages, and their employees generate over $300 million in federal, state, and local tax revenue. Plus, the demand for outdoor recreation opportunities has only increased during the COVID crisis.
Conservation projects keep Pennsylvanians working, too. More than 6,000 projects in 25 years have helped to conserve 190,000 acres of land, and to complete them, county conservation districts and nonprofits sustain a laundry list of well-paying jobs for workers across the state.
“These projects employ public works staff, conservation district staff, local surveyors, general contractors, excavators, farm operators, equipment rental and sales companies, and agriculture consultants, such as crop advisers, nutrition specialists, and farm plan writers,” says Sarah Xenophon, a watershed technician for Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences. She often works with sportsmen’s groups, landowners, and nonprofits to use Keystone Fund and Environmental Stewardship Fund dollars to improve fish and wildlife habitat.
These partnerships are key to getting more bang for state bucks. The ESF and Keystone Fund leverage public/private partnerships to amplify the impact of public conservation dollars. Continuing to allow them to fund shovel-ready projects ensures that we keep this critical part of Pennsylvania’s economy open. It allows us to put small businesses to work on our natural infrastructure and environmental services that build our resilience to natural events, like flash floods.
Here are just a few examples of projects made possible by the Keystone Fund and Environmental Stewardship Fund with benefits for hunters and anglers.
In March 2015, the Wildlands Conservancy received $1.3 million from the Keystone Fund to help purchase land adjacent to state game lands in Wayne and Lackawanna County and transfer them to the Pennsylvania Game Commission for public use. This purchase permanently protects approximately 500 acres of wetlands, including the headwaters of the Lehigh River, and provides drinking water for 180,000 residents.
Trees for Trout
In 2018, the Donegal Chapter of Trout Unlimited received $50,000 from the Environmental Stewardship Fund to construct 15 acres of riparian forest buffers on wild trout streams in southern Lancaster county. The grant, administered through the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, requires a one to one match that the chapter provided through in-kind volunteer hours and trees from its nursery.
The Little J
In 2008, the Little Juniata River Association used $102,000 from the Keystone Fund to preserve public access to five miles of class A wild trout waters along the Little Juniata River, which is known for its healthy wild brown trout and excellent dry fly fishing. The area draws anglers from across the mid-Atlantic and beyond—in fact, President Eisenhower and President Carter both visited the area while in office to sample some of the best fishing that central Pennsylvania has to offer.
“The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
Aug 29, 1910
Prevent Cuts to Conservation
As in years past, attempts are being made to disrupt 30 years of stabilized funding for conservation projects provided by these funds. Specifically, amended language to House Bill 1822 would freeze funding for any new conservation contracts coming from the Keystone Fund, ESF, and county conservation district funds. Meanwhile, other proposals have been made to alter the way these funds are appropriated.
As sportsmen and women, we need to send a strong message that now is not the time to stop funding conservation. Continued investments mean more opportunities to find solace in the outdoors during a very uncertain time, but this funding supports job creation, as well.
If you are from Pennsylvania, your state lawmakers need to hear from you today. Click here to take action. Supportive out-of-state hunters and anglers, please consider asking friends or family to sign our action alert. In-state voices will have the most impact, but our fish and wildlife are here for you, too.
Top photo of Pennsylvania’s state fish, the brook trout, by Derek Eberly.
Omega’s rapacious appetite for harvesting as many menhaden as it possibly can is hardly breaking news. For decades, the foreign-owned company has had a monopoly on a public marine resource, threatening the ecology and economy of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic coastal communities.
Anglers know firsthand why menhaden are called the most important fish in the sea: Because they are extremely valuable food for many popular and valuable game fish, including striped bass, red drum, bluefish, cobia, tuna, and flounder. Leaving more of these crucial forage in the water is one of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s key conservation initiatives.
Which is why it is so hard to fathom how Omega Protein can be called “sustainable” in the first place, let alone keep its certification from the Marine Stewardship Council—an international organization that helps determine which fisheries qualify for a seal of approval. Given the fact that Omega willfully blasted past the legitimate Bay cap by more than 30 percent in 2019, one would think the company would be sheepish about continuing to flout this specious sustainability claim.
If legitimately earned, these labels allow consumers to make informed seafood choices. And companies can typically charge a premium to recoup costs associated with being more environmentally responsible. To earn the MSC “blue checkmark” label, for example, seafood companies are required to follow internationally recognized best practices for operating healthy, sustainable fisheries while causing minor impacts on the marine food chain. But the MSC is a for-profit venture, and despite the blowback from anglers, Omega seemed able to buy their way to “sustainability” in 2019.
This was before the company violated the Bay cap last fall, but after it was cited for Clean Water Act violations and paid a $400,000 fine to the Security and Exchange Commission for misleading investors.
Full compliance with the ASMFC’s management plan is important, because if the moratorium takes effect, it could have severe economic consequences—not only for Omega’s workers, but also for Bay watermen, charter captains, tackle shop owners, and recreational fishermen.
This isn’t what sportfishing groups want to see happen.
Thankfully, the Virginia General Assembly recently passed historic legislation that transfers authority for managing menhaden from the state legislature, where it has been highly politicized for decades, to the Virginia Marine Resource Commission, which was already effectively managing all other marine fisheries in the state—including striped bass, crabs, and oysters. The TRCP and its sportfishing partners played a pivotal role in getting this landmark legislation across the finish line.
Both the new law transferring management authority and the VMRC’s swift action to limit Omega’s harvest this year are historic wins for marine conservation. Later this year, the ASMFC is expected to vote on a new plan for managing menhaden according to their broader ecological value, which offers another opportunity to advance the sound conservation of such a vital resource.
With so many groups invested in securing the future of this forage fish, could it be time for MSC to rethink their tacit endorsement of Omega Protein and yank the “sustainable” label? If you ask me, sucking up thousands of tons of critical food for our most important game fish and disrupting the marine food chain, is about as far from being a responsible steward of a public resource as you can get.
Incredibly, SAI Global, an independent auditor for the MSC that supported Omega’s accreditation, claimed “there is no firm evidence” that the operation affects the species’ sustainability. Recreational anglers and conservationists know better. That’s why we have objected at every stage of the certification process.
Without a doubt, there is much at stake to keep the pressure on Omega Protein to be accountable for their actions. Sportfishing is both culturally and economically important to the Chesapeake and mid-Atlantic region. According to a 2016 study by Southwick Associates, striped bass generated almost $8 billion to our country’s GDP. Thousands of jobs tied to a healthy striper population—charter captains, marinas, bait and tackle shops, hotels, and restaurants, to list several—are at risk if menhaden populations are overfished. Moreover, 32 percent of recreational and 69 percent of commercial harvest of stripers comes from the Chesapeake, resulting in a combined economic impact of approximately $2.5 billion.
In Virginia alone, striped bass drove more than $240 million in economic activity just a decade ago. Sadly, those numbers have plummeted to just over $100 million annually. The recent decline in the population of this marquee game fish has already resulted in reduced seasons and creel limits, putting the livelihoods of many coastal residents in jeopardy. In fact, striped bass charters in 2019 were down between 50 and 100 percent in some areas. The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 has already added to the stress.
Reminder: Omega’s industrialized fleet is the last of its kind on the entire East Coast. All other states have banned reduction fishing using such highly mechanized boats, nets, and gear. And yet Omega—and Daybrooke in the Gulf of Mexico—continues to pulverize these protein-packed fish into oils and powders used in health supplements and, increasingly, as feed for overseas aquaculture operations.
Omega’s operation is particularly nettlesome on the Chesapeake, where concerns over localized depletion have persisted for decades and conflicts with anglers are on the upswing. When Omega Protein flouts its industrial operation as “sustainable,” it’s a step too far. Especially given that state and coastal fishery leaders have taken encouraging steps to better manage menhaden, the label simply doesn’t fit.
Captain Chris Dollar is a professional fishing guide, tackle shop owner, all-around Chesapeake outdoorsman, and writer.