Fishing Conservation photo

By now — unless you live completely off-grid or you’ve just returned from a two-week yak hunt in the wi-fi-free wilds of Mongolia — you’ve probably heard that the Obama Administration is planning to ban fishing as we know it.

The Obama administration has ended public input for a federal strategy that could prohibit U.S. citizens from fishing some of the nation’s oceans, coastal areas, Great Lakes, and even inland waters. This announcement comes at the time when the situation supposedly still is “fluid” and the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force still hasn’t issued its final report on zoning uses of these waters. Fishing industry insiders, who have negotiated for months with officials at the Council on Environmental Quality and bureaucrats on the task force, had grown concerned that the public input would not be taken into account.

Basically what the story said was that environmental groups which may have an anti-fishing bias have way too much influence on how the Obama administration is shaping the NOAA’s new ocean policy guidelines, and that as a result of that influence recreational fishing opportunities in many areas were in danger of being shut down as part of these new management guidelines.

The story, originally published on the ESPN Outdoors website as straight news, went immediately viral. We’re talking Ebola viral. Basically, everyone went completely ape%*@*. Within hours headlines were proclaiming the end of fishing, pundits were sputtering and chat rooms and message boards were on fire with the news that the Obama Administration was in league with animal rights organizations to limit or ban recreational fishing in many areas across the country.

The only problem was, of course, that it wasn’t quite true. The news story wasn’t a news story at all, but the opinion of BASS reporter Robert Montgomery. ESPN Outdoors Executive Editor Steve Bowman issued a statement saying “ inadvertently contributed to a flare-up Tuesday when we posted the latest article in a series of stories on President Barack Obama’s newly created Ocean Policy Task Force, a column written by Robert Montgomery, a conservation writer for BASS since 1985. Regrettably, we made several errors in the editing and presentation of this installment. Though our series has included numerous news stories on the topic, this was not one of them — it was an opinion piece, and should have been clearly labeled as commentary. And while our series overall has examined several sides of the topic, this particular column was not properly balanced and failed to represent contrary points of view. We have reached out to people on every side of the issue and reported their points of view — if they chose to respond — throughout the series, but failed to do so in this specific column.

The right thing to do, of course, but said retraction was about as effective at stemming the speculation as a certain Jerry Jeff Walker tune.

The Obama Administration was quick to point out that it has no such plans. And Trout Unlimited yesterday reiterated what most of those familiar with the situation already knew:

_Dear TU Supporters:
We wanted to take a moment to respond to a number of you who have written to us this week concerning an ESPN piece that appeared on the ESPN Outdoors website about the draft proposal recently published by the President’s Ocean Policy Task Force. The first sentence in the piece said the following: “The Obama administration has ended public input for a federal strategy that could prohibit U.S. citizens from fishing some of the nation’s oceans, coastal areas, Great Lakes, and even inland

…The confusion over the ESPN article led the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the coordinating entity for federal environmental efforts, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), to issue the following statements (from Eric Schwaab, NOAA’s Assistant Administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service)

“The Ocean Policy Task Force has not recommended a ban on recreational fishing. The draft reports by the Ocean Policy Task Force do not contain a zoning map and do not establish any restrictions on recreational fishing, nor make any judgments about whether one ocean activity or use is better than another. Instead, the reports set up a policy and framework for effectively managing the many sustainable uses of the ocean while upholding our responsibility to be stewards of our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes. As a member of the task force, NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco, has said, and I echo her on this, that saltwater recreational fishing is vital to this nation and NOAA is committed to building a strong partnership with America’s saltwater anglers to ensure that Americans have opportunities to fish sustainably for generations to come.”

“Saltwater recreational fishing matters to me on a personal level as a recreational fisherman, it matters to millions of Americans who enjoy this great sport and it matters to our economy. Our most recent economic report shows it supports a half million jobs and generates $82 billion in sales each year. NOAA is committed to adopting policies that will ensure that current and future generations have the opportunity to enjoy the great tradition of recreational fishing.”

In our view, there is no evidence that the Obama Administration intended to use the work of the Ocean Task Force to undercut marine sport fishing._

At least one good thing might have come out of this farce: if the administration wasn’t paying attention to the concerns voiced by recreational anglers before, you can bet it is now. And that’s a good thing regardless of who’s in office.