The Sportfishing Conservancy


Sportfishing by the Numbers

“Hey, I’m one guy who fishes a couple of times a year and I only use one hook on my line when I do fish.  After watching the giant industrial fishing boats that I see on the videos, my little fishing contribution doesn’t even make a speck on the graph when you talk about overfished and depleted fisheries.  Right?”


Talk to most recreational fishermen about their fishing experience and it’s not uncommon to get an answer like this.  They don’t go fishing all that often and when they do go, they don’t take home a lot of fish.   If there’s overfishing going on, why don’t the feds go after the commercial guys and concentrate on the real problem.  Somehow it just doesn’t make sense for the National Marine Fishery Service to pick on us recreational fishermen who are just out for a little time on the water and want to take home a few fish.

Interestingly, last fall the National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) released data on recreational fishing and it contained some pretty astounding figures not only about how many of us fish, but importantly, insight into just how we fish.  According the NMFS office of external affairs, in 2011, some 10 million marine anglers took 60 million trips and caught about 345 million fish.   Suddenly it becomes clear that when counted with the other folks who fish, our one hook and one line can have a significant impact on the overall health of our marine world.   However, the truly interesting thing about the way we fish also came out in the NMFS report:  we recreational fishermen release nearly 60% of the fish that we catch!   This isn’t just CPR –catch, photograph and release, the 60% number includes regulatory discards – under or over sized fish, over limits or out of season and recreational bycatch.  So if we release 60% of what we catch and keep 40%, that means that we release 50% more fish than we take!  Do the math and we release some 200,000,000 fish a year.  All of a sudden, when you add all of the little specks on that problem fishery graph together, our recreational fishing contribution shows an immense impact on resources.

“But wait a minute – didn’t I just hear that we release 200,000,000 fish every year – don’t we get credit for throwing those back?”

Here’s the rub.  While we release a lot of fish, many, and in some fisheries most of those released fish don’t survive.  While there are many reasons why released fish do or don’t make it, the mortality figures are compiled by marine scientists and become important to regulators who include them in our total catch.  Fish released that don’t survive are counted the same as those we take home for dinner.

So what are “Best Practices” and why should I even care?

In light of declining fish populations for key recreational fisheries, the health of the 200,000,000 fish that we release each year can have a great affect on the way in which managers regulate fisheries.  Many fisheries that we participate in currently have low survival rates.  Best practices tries to look at regional fisheries and employ the tactics that can improve those survival rates.  Importantly, when we employ best practices and improve survival rates, we not only help the fish, but we also provide regulators with an opportunity to count less dead fish and potentially increase overall catches.  Taking the high road to conservation helps not only our resources, but is clearly in the long term best interest of our fishing and our grandkids fishing.

Best Practices workshops are being held around the country to learn from anglers and share some of the science on better ways to handle and release fish.


What is a Marine Protected Area? Why do those 3 letters, “MPA,” generate such fear?

A Marine Protected Area or MPA is a clearly defined geographic area that has special protections in place and is formally dedicated for those protections.  That’s it.

On land we have many such designated areas, so before we go to sea, let’s look at some of our MPAs’ terrestrial counterparts. 

Private property - usually for a fee, a person takes title to a clearly defined area.  The owner then basically sets criteria for use of that land.  We have farmland that farmers set aside for crops.  Their water might be designated for irrigation.  Folks who own their house can likewise set their own rules of entry.  Owners set the terms and we often see “Parking for patrons” or “management reserves the right to . . . “

In addition to private ownership, federal and state governments also have a role. Federal designations include Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges and others.   Rules on these properties are set geographically, then generally limit but allow activities that may include mining, timber harvest, hunting and fishing.  Teddy Roosevelt provided the guidance and framework for much of this national policy.  Consequently, today across our country the average person enjoys unparalleled hunting and fishing opportunity and access to the great outdoors.

Most states and municipalities have followed this lead and have similar designations and also apply similar regulations and restrictions.

When it comes to the ocean, rules have come later rather than sooner.  Oil drilling, wind farms, transportation and fishing are regulated, but the regulations have been more specific to the activity instead of the geographic area.  Marine spatial planning is evolving and will be helpful by assuring both competing and complimentary interests some degree of certainty for their future endeavors.  Although it does not regulate, the new National Ocean Policy was formulated with broad stakeholder input to provide a regional framework for such practices, while embracing all interests.

In light of this background let’s again look at the infamous “MPA.”  

First of all, MPA is NOT simply code for no fishing.  Case in point, our National Marine Sanctuaries:  these “Sanctuaries” are “MPAs,” initially designed as places free from oil development or mineral extraction.  Much like their counterparts on land, the aim was to protect high value marine habitat from over exploitation.  Over the years, through open public and scientifically vetted process, some areas within these Sanctuaries have been set aside for greater protection either for research or to provide a baseline habitat, free from human caused interference.  Some of these are “no-take” marine reserves where fishing and generally all extractive activities are prohibited, however, over 95% of the entire area that our National Marine Sanctuaries occupy is open to recreational fishing.

Much like Teddy Roosevelt’s protection of western lands, George Bush created a large open-ocean no-take marine reserve when he dedicated the Northern Hawaiian Islands National Monument.  The remote location of this MPA lent itself to such a designation

On the state management level, a number of states have dedicated areas where extractive activities are prohibited.   This may include prohibitions against oil and gas exploration, vessel transit or fishing.

One state process comes to mind in particular: California’s Marine Life Protection Act.  The Act, or “MLPA” as it is known, is actually a law passed in the 1990’s designed to protect a network of high value marine habitats.  Assuring that stakeholders would play a major role in deciding which areas to protect and at what level of protection to employ cost California and it’s partners tens of millions of dollars and took more than a decade to complete.  Fishing is allowed in 2 out of the 3 types of MPA that this legislation authorizes.   A third type of MPA is  designated “State Marine Reserves” where fishing is prohibited.  However, in total, these reserves make up less than 10% of coastal California waters.  While they still cause heartburn to some locals, overall, recreational fishing has continued with little or no interruption in California.

At the height of World War II, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”   Today those words still ring true regarding Marine Protected Areas - the more that we actually learn about MPAs, the less scary they get. 
Much like his older cousin, FDR was right on the mark.  

Just What are “Best Practices” for Sport Fishing



A half-century ago Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, when asked to define obscenity, quipped that he wouldn’t try to define it, “but I know it when I see it.”


Although a long way from the Supreme Court, pretty much the same thing can be said of “Best Practices” for recreational fishing. The width and breadth of sport fishing’s “Best Practices” are hard to define, but ask any experienced sport fisherman about them and “he’ll know them when he sees them.” More importantly, the true sport angler generally employs this array of loosely defined tools and techniques as an integral part of sustainable fishing.

Concepts behind best practices have evolved over the decades and have been passed on generationally. Whether father, mother, uncle or grandparent, those that passed down the traditional art of recreational fishing generally had a special reverence for the sport, the fish and the outdoor landscapes that provided incredible backdrops for their fishing adventures. Importantly, along the line an increasing number of these heritage practices have been observed, vetted and sometimes augmented by marine science. Recently such science has opened the door for regulatory authorities to adopt better-understood outcomes in their rule-making scheme. As fisheries and habitat change from region to region and from inshore to offshore, so to do the ways which anglers carefully ply their sport. Instead of trying to define the vast array of these fishing tricks and tactics that make up best practices, let’s instead examine the theme behind “best Practices.”

Generally speaking, “Best Practices” are an informal code of conduct for the sports fishing community, indicative of taking an active role in adopting and employing responsible, sustainable tools and techniques when practicing their sport.

The Sportfishing Conservancy and Sanctuary Classic - Late August, Back from the Road

The Sportfishing Conservancy has a couple of engaging projects going on this summer, the kind that require fairly constant attention.  Our (National Marine) Sanctuary Classic, fishing and photo contest is starting to wind down, although Classic action is far from over.  I’ve spent the last 2 weeks on the east coast helping to prepare for the Sanctuary Classic awards ceremony where we will give away 4 “Guy Harvey” scholarships for the best kids fishing pictures that demonstrate family fishing values, kids fishing and good conservation.  Guy has come on board with the Classic and we are grateful for his support and very proud to have him as a partner.  Scholarship winners will be announced our awards ceremony set for September 13 at the Florida Gulf Coast Center For Fishing in Largo, Florida.  Our host at this incredible location is Jim Simons.  You may know Jim from his role running the International Billfish competitions, including the Bisbee and other high-end tournaments.  We are honored to partner with Jim.  We hope to have some great video of the event and location to share with you.


Final Week for 2012 Sanctuary Classic

With August fading into the distance and Labor Day Weekend upon us, the 2012 Sanctuary Classic has just about run its course.   Kicked-off on June 9, National Oceans Day, the Classic’s unique blend of fishing, photography and conservation has rewarded over a hundred anglers with thousands of dollars in West Marine gift cards just for employing best fishing practices and submitting photos of their efforts to the Classic website.  Check it out at  Pretty slick!  
According to the Sportfishing Conservancy’s Conservation Director, Jenny Armstrong, thousands of votes have been cast in support of anglers engaged in the Classic.  “The Classic has energized fishermen from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  We have even received entries from the Flower Garden Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico,” reported Jenny.  “We are impressed with the incredible level of engagement from all around the states.  While in our first year we have concentrated our outreach in the southeast and far west, we are excited and amazed about getting entries from the Gulf and other regions, ” she added.
Clearly the Classic is encouraging recreational anglers to get out and enjoy our National Marine Sanctuaries.  Getting folks out fishing in these pristine locations offers an incredible way to share outdoor adventure in some of the most beautiful places anywhere.  Just as importantly, the Classic is helping to introduce and define the concept of best recreational fishing practices:  ways in which anglers can fish effectively, yet at the same time minimize their overall impact on fish and the natural resources that we all value.
We will have more on “best fishing practices” in the coming months.  Fishermen, scientists, the conservation community and regulators all share an interest in the results of employing “best practices” and have offered to help ferret out these methods.  Shortly we expect to officially announce our initial “Best Practices” workshop in partnership with Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary.  Getting first hand insight from the local recreational fishing communities is a high priority and should prove invaluable in compiling this information.  And when you combine so many talented and dedicated players, good things happen.
We are particularly proud of instituting the Sanctuary Classic to help provide positive incentives for employing “best practices.”   The marine recreational fishing community has felt the sting of regulations and “Classic” incentives should provide a welcome alternative.


Department of Fish & wildlife 



The No Motor Tournament is held in Carpenteria, California. The main rule is contestants use only "human power" to fish; catch and release is highly encouraged...More

Sanctuary Classic

Sanctuary Classic Photo Contest
The Classic was a free summer-long fishing photo contest featuring four National Marine Sanctuaries