- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Obama administration is not getting high marks from sport fishermen across the United States. It’s all because of the clumsy way the White House is handling something known as the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force.

Every sportfishing organization in the country is ticked off at the president because, conceivably, the task force could shut down all fishing in any given area that is under the control of the government.

It began in June, when Obama created the ocean policy group, led by the chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, charging it with developing a national policy and strategy for conserving and managing U.S. ocean waters and even the Great Lakes. According to KeepAmericaFishing.org, the plan is to “coordinate efforts among countless federal, state and local agencies.”

Sadly, there was one huge omission in the new national policy: No one has bothered to ask the nation’s 60-odd million sport anglers what they thought of it.

According to KeepAmericaFishing, “Without recreational angler input, decisions made under this national oceans policy could be used to unnecessarily close saltwater and freshwater recreational fishing area.

ESPNOutdoors.com contributor Robert Montgomery recently interviewed Phil Morlock, the director of Environmental Affairs for Shimano Canada Ltd./Shimano American Corporation. Montgomery said, over the years, fishing access was so diverse and scattered that few sport anglers ever bothered to worry about coming changes. “Why should fishermen in Maine worry that the state of California has closed waters around the Channel Islands?” he said. “How could Texans be upset that the National Park Service blocked surf casters from reaching the beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina?”

However, with the recent creation of the controversial task force, all of us better be concerned about the future of recreational fishing in salt- and fresh waters.

“We are completely baffled as to why the task force failed to acknowledge or include any mention of the key aspects of recreational fishing that were presented to them in detail on more than one occasion,” Morlock told Montgomery. “The significant number of jobs and the economy that more than 60 million American anglers support, and the major conservation efforts by people who fish in all regions of the country, were completely ignored.

“No distinction between the obvious dramatic differences between recreational fishing and commercial harvest methods was made. This is the result of a 90-day fire-drill process, as ordered by the president that, not surprisingly, lacks balance, clarity and quality in the end product.”

Chris Horton, the national conservation director for the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, said, “Right now, this is all an administrative directive with no accountability or oversight and no real public input, and that’s scary.”

The task force is composed of - in typical government language - “senior policy-level officials” from the Interior, Commerce, Agriculture and Homeland Security offices and other agencies. It has the type of structure and authority to shut down fishing in deep offshore and coastal waters of oceans, even the Great Lakes.

That is not to say it will happen. But allow bureaucrats to have their way, and I’ll wager that there will be more than one screwy decision coming down the pike - all under the rubric of conserving and protecting our waters.

As the task force’s interim report is under review and a comment period, only one thing will help: getting in touch with your senators and House members. You could also send a letter to the Council on Environmental Quality urging the task force to include recreational fishing and boating in the national policy.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com. Mueller’s Inside Outside blog can be found at www.washingtontimes.com/ sports.