Does Fishing Have a Future?

As the young turn away from the sport, companies and schools look for new ways to reel them in.
Kayla and Paul Carlson fish with their sons at a pier in Jacksonville, Fla. PHOTO: BETSY HANSEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

By Mike Toto
The Wall Street Journal – August 15 , 2019

Paul Harris remembers driving to the New Jersey shore in a Ford Model A to go fishing with his father.

“Back in the 1940s, we’d go to the old Phipps estate for the weekend and fish for kingfish and croakers. Then we’d drive back home to Philadelphia, where the mothers and grandmothers were all waiting for the fish,” says Mr. Harris, 75, who still fishes that 10-mile stretch of shoreline, now known as Island Beach State Park.

Mr. Harris taught his two daughters to fish there in the 1970s, and he has fond memories of those times. “We were a crowd. Whole families would drive onto the sand and fish together. The older kids would help keep an eye on the younger kids. Now, you look up and down the beach, you see very few families fishing. You can’t get the kids outside anymore.”

Indeed, according to the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF), children are less likely to go fishing as they get older: Those aged 13 to 17 fish much less than those aged 6 to 12. That trend is contributing to a drastic decline in the popularity of fishing.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that the number of anglers in the U.S. increased from 33.1 million in 2011 to 35.8 million in 2016, but the number of total days they fished dropped precipitously—from 553.8 million to 459.3 million, a 17% decrease.

What is keeping older kids off the water? In his book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder,” Richard Louv writes that loss of discretionary time and increased screen use keep young people indoors. But he thinks there is more at work. “Much of society no longer sees time spent in the natural world as ‘enrichment,’” Mr. Louv writes. “Technology now dominates almost every aspect of our lives. Children are conditioned at an early age to associate nature with environmental doom.”

An ‘Off the Hook’ pop-up stand in Hudson River Park, New York, June 2019. PHOTO: RBFF

Frank Peterson, president and CEO of RBFF, points out the need for the recreational fishing industry to find and mine new demographics. “I go to all the industry meetings. I’m a 67-year-old pale white male. I look out at the audience, and they all look like me. We need to attract more diverse audiences and women,” says Mr. Peterson, whose “Take Me Fishing” program (and “Vamos a Pescar,” its Spanish-language counterpart) provides newcomers with everything they need to know—from tackle recommendations and knot-tying videos to finding a place to fish.

That is how Kayla Carlson, a stay-at-home mom in Jacksonville, Fla., and her family came to the sport. “Three years ago, my husband and I were looking for a fun Father’s Day activity for the family and decided to try fishing. We took our boys to a private pond. They loved it. We knew we had to learn more about it.”

Ms. Carlson, whose sons are now 6 and 5, found “Take Me Fishing” online, which directed her to a local fishing clinic. “It’s an awesome resource,” she says. “We all fish four or five times a week. The boys have caught hundreds of fish—red drum, sharks, snapper, pompano, whiting. Sometimes we bring fish home to eat.”

This past May, Emily Negrin of Minneapolis stopped by an “Off the Hook” stand, a pop-up introductory fishing experience that RBFF is setting up across the U.S. Owen, her 7-year-old son, learned the basics of fishing from a volunteer. Ms. Negrin says he has been on the water nearly every weekend since then—and that has rekindled his grandfather’s interest in fishing. “My dad has a stockpile of fishing poles that he dusted off so he can fish with Owen,” says Ms. Negrin. “The two of them have a blast.”

RBFF is also trying to encourage more women to try the sport with its “Women Making Waves” initiative, with blogs written by women and social-media platforms on which visitors can share fishing photos and information. Those connections are crucial, says Senior Vice President Stephanie Vatalaro, because while 45% of fishing newcomers are women, they drop out of the sport at a high rate. “Only 19% of women who fish identify as an angler,” says Ms. Vatalaro. “They’re going into tackle shops and reading fishing magazines, but they don’t see themselves. And they’re not sticking around.”

For young people, another inducement to try their hand at fishing can be found in high schools, where fishing teams compete for a spot in the High School Fishing World Finals. Teams fish for freshwater bass that are weighed and then released back into the water. This year’s finalists vied for nearly $3 million in scholarships from 60 colleges that have their own fishing teams.

James Hall coaches one such high-school team near his Birmingham, Ala., home, and says that many team members wouldn’t fish otherwise. He too sees the young inspiring the old to return to the sport. “The first year I started coaching, we had six freshman kids. Two hadn’t been fishing in years,” Mr. Hall says. “The boats owned by one kid’s father and the other kid’s grandfather were collecting dust. The father and grandfather volunteered to be boat captains, which the team needs, and that reignited their passion for fishing.”

Mr. Hall says his team crosses social divides. “Kids with long hair, jocks with short hair. Kids on the honor roll, kids who struggle to make Cs…they all get along,” says Mr. Hall. “The grunge kid catches a fish, the jock shakes his hand and says ‘Way to go, bro!’”

After seeing the drop-off in young people fishing on his New Jersey beach, Mr. Harris approached staff at Toms River South High School five years ago and offered to help form and coach a saltwater fishing team. Students from all grades are on the 19-strong Fishing Indians team, and some of them had little to no fishing experience before signing up.

“We meet the kids on the beach, teach them how to tie knots and cast,” says Mr. Harris, who lobbied members of his New Jersey Beach Buggy Association, a local club, to donate tackle for the team’s use.

Meanwhile, tackle manufacturers as a whole seem slow to embrace a new demographic. Most exhibitors at the 2019 ICAST (International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades) trade show in Orlando, Fla., last month featured photos of white adult males holding big fish caught with the gear on display. Rod and reel maker Zebco, with its mural of photographs of young, racially diverse men and women engaged in a variety of outdoor activities besides fishing—bicycling, tending a campfire, swimming—was one exception.

Fishing eyewear company Flying Fisherman was another. The firm’s president, Pat Sheldon, said he introduced the Buoy Jr. Angler Polarized Sunglasses at this year’s ICAST to help cultivate young fishermen. The eyewear is sized for kids but performs identically to standard fishing glasses. “Same lenses as the adult models,” says Mr. Sheldon. “For kids to have a good fishing experience, they need to see what the adults are seeing.”

—Mr. Toth is a writer and a former executive editor of Field & Stream.

Ruling blocks southern AZ mine

Hudbay Minerals Inc. had been preparing to start construction of one of the largest copper mines in the country when a federal judge halted the project and overturned the federal government’s approval of the $1.9 billion mine.

The ruling dealt a blow to the company, which saw its stock price drop on Thursday. The decision will prevent Hudbay from moving forward with work on the open-pine mine, which would be blasted and carved into the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson.

The judge’s decision, issued late Wednesday, represents a major victory for environmental groups and tribes that have been fighting plans for the Rosemont mine for years.

“We’re thrilled,” said Gayle Hartmann of the group Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, who has been battling the project since the early 2000s. “This exceeded our expectations, and I feel like the judge saw and understood the issue and did what was right.”

But while the ruling will freeze the project for the time being, the Toronto- based company plans to appeal. And opponents of the mine say their fight isn’t over.

Federal District Court Judge James Soto said in his decision on Wednesday that the Forest Service “abdicated its duty to protect the Coronado National Forest” when it failed to properly analyze the company’s mining claims.

The judge said the Forest Service had “no factual basis to determine that Rosemont had valid unpatented mining claims” on 2,447 acres and that the claims are invalid under the Mining Law of 1872. He said the agency’s review and decision were riddled with defects and led to “an inherently flawed analysis” from the proposal’s inception.

Hudbay has proposed to excavate a pit stretching more than a mile wide and more than 2,900 feet deep. In all, the project encompasses 5,431 acres of mountainous terrain, including more than 3,600 acres of Forest Service land, nearly 1,200 acres of private land, and other lands owned by the state and federal government.

In addition to the pit, the company has proposed a processing plant and areas for waste rock and tailings, the finegrained material that’s separated from the ore.

“The unauthorized dumping of over 1.2 billion tons of waste rock, as well as about 700 million tons of tailings, and the establishment of an ore processing facility no doubt constitutes a depredation upon Forest Service land,” Soto wrote in the decision. He said the agency implemented the wrong regulations, misinformed the public, and “failed to adequately consider reasonable alternatives.”

Soto said he was overturning the Forest Service’s decision “such that the Rosemont Mine cannot begin operations at this time.”

Company faces questions after ruling

Several conservation groups had challenged the federal government’s approvals of the mine, arguing it would tear up the landscape, destroy streams and ravage habitats for rare animals, including endangered jaguars that roam the wilds of southern Arizona. The upshot for the company is that they now “have to go back to the drawing board,” Hartmann said. “They have to try to respond to a whole bunch of the judge’s questions. My guess would be that they will not be able to actually respond to those, that it’s not possible to build a mine there and answer Judge Soto’s concerns.”

Hartmann said her group’s work will go on while the company takes the case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “It’s certainly not over.”

Hudbay’s stock plunged more than 21% on Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange after the court decision.

The company announced its plan to appeal, saying in a statement that it believes the court “misinterpreted federal mining laws and Forest Service regulations as they apply to Rosemont.” It said the Forest Service issued its decision in 2017 after a “thorough process of ten years involving 17 co-operating agencies at various levels of government.”

Peter Kukielski, Hudbay’s interim president and CEO, said the appeal will proceed as the company evaluates its next steps. “We are extremely disappointed with the Court’s decision,” Kukielski said. “We strongly believe that the project conforms to federal laws and regulations that have been in place for decades.”

Will ruling force changes in reviews?

The judge focused on the Forest Service’s 2017 decision that the mine would comply with environmental laws.

The agency’s decision drew three legal challenges, which Soto considered together in the ruling. He left one of the cases pending, saying the court will issue a separate order later. The groups that sued included Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and Arizona Mining Reform Coalition. The federal government’s approval of the mine was also challenged by three Native American tribes: the Tohono O’odham Nation, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the Hopi Tribe. The tribes objected to plans to excavate remnants of ancestral Hohokam villages and burial sites and said the mine would dewater springs and seeps they consider sacred. Randy Serraglio of the Center for Biological Diversity called the judge’s decision a “momentous precedent,” saying it makes clear that the Forest Service has been misinterpreting the 1872 Mining Law. “That means that it does not trump all these other environmental laws that have passed since then, and the mining company does not have an automatic right to dump their toxic waste on our public lands,” Serraglio said. “So, the Forest Service going forward is going to have to look at these projects through an entirely new lens.” If the decision stands, he said, “it’s a huge victory for everybody who wants to use public lands for something other than mining company profits.” Representatives of the Forest Service didn’t respond to a request for comment. The tribes’ leaders praised the decision. Robert Valencia, chairman of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, said the judge’s ruling affirms “the fundamental principle that you can’t get a free pass to destroy public lands.”

“The value and integrity of the Santa Rita Mountains is of the utmost importance,” Valencia said. “And as a tribe, we feel that we need to continue to fight to really protect these places from being destroyed.”

Area is home to imperiled species

The Center for Biological Diversity has said a dozen threatened or endangered species would be harmed by the mine, among them a guppy-like fish called the Gila topminnow; birds such as the southwestern willow flycatcher and the Western yellow-billed cuckoo; the Chiricahua leopard frog and endangered wildcats including the jaguar and the smaller ocelot.

El Jefe as seen on remote-sensor camera in 2015. CONSERVATION CATALYST, CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

One jaguar, nicknamed “El Jefe,” was photographed repeatedly with remote cameras in the mountains several years ago, including at one location about a quarter-mile from the edge of the mining area. At least one ocelot has also been photographed traipsing through the area multiple times.

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the federal Fish and Wildlife Service to challenge its determination that the mine wouldn’t jeopardize threatened or endangered species. In that case, a decision is still pending.
Opponents of the Rosemont mine argue it would wipe out streams and desert washes in a zone that helps recharge groundwater supplies for the Tucson area.

Hudbay has disputed those concerns, stressing that the project has gone through a thorough vetting process lasting more than 12 years, with a long list of studies that examined the potential effects on the environment.
The company says the Forest Service and state regulators require testing of surface water and groundwater, and there would be regular checks of monitoring wells drilled around the site.

Mine would yield ore, revenue

Rosemont would be the third-largest copper mine in the United States, after the Morenci mine in Arizona and the Bingham Canyon mine in Utah. Hudbay has projected the mine would yield about 10% of the country’s total copper production, while also extracting molybdenum, silver and gold.

The company has touted the economic benefits, saying the mine would employ up to 2,500 workers during the peak of construction. Throughout the 19 years of mining, the company says, Rosemont would employ an average of 500 full-time workers and would generate more than $350 million in local tax revenues.

Business groups that have voiced support include the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Arizona Business Coalition.

It’s unclear how the court decision might affect other proposed mining projects. Steve Trussell, executive director of the Arizona Mining Association, said the organization is evaluating the court’s opinion.

Until the ruling, the company had appeared close to starting work on the mine. In March, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cleared the way for construction to begin when it approved a Clean Water Act permit. The Forest Service then issued the mine’s operations plan, which was the final step in the permitting process.
Hudbay’s lawyers had said in a document submitted to the court they intended to start initial work on the mine in June. The company’s lawyers later said in court that they would hold off until August to give the judge additional time to consider the issues and rule on several motions.

In recent weeks, crews of volunteers from the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society helped remove cactuses and other desert plants from a “utility corridor” where the company planned to install power lines and water pipes. Richard Wiedhopf, the society’s president, said the volunteers “rescued” the plants along 7-8 miles of road and on a 20-acre site around a pump station.

The nonprofit group is often invited to do this work, removing plants that would otherwise be destroyed in development projects and saving them to be used in landscaping. Wiedhopf said the volunteers have almost finished their work removing plants from the roadside strip. But the judge made clear in the decision that no work on the mine may proceed.

Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva applauded the ruling and said it’s “the ultimate emperor-has-no-clothes moment.”
“Congress, federal agencies, and most of all the American public no longer have to live with the industry-backed fiction that the law gives them a blank check to mine and dump wherever they please,” Grijalva said in a statement. He has proposed legislation that would make various changes to mining law, including ending the system of claimstaking and patenting, and collecting royalties on mining operations.

Ian James
Arizona Republic USA TODAY NETWORK

Reach the reporter at or 602-444-8246. Follow him on Twitter: @ByIanJames. Environmental coverage on azcentral and in The Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow Republic environmental reporting at environment and at OurGrandAZ on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

An update on the National Environmental Policy Act

What’s happening?

The U.S. Forest Service has undertaken an initiative to update its regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Signed into law in 1970 by President Nixon, NEPA is one of our country’s bedrock environmental laws, providing citizens a voice in federal decisions affecting the environment, fostering transparency, and ensuring that decisions are informed with the best available science.

The Forest Service began this effort in January 2018 with a round of public comment, generating nearly 35,000 comments (See TU’s comment letter). Currently, the agency has published a draft rule and is taking public comments through Aug. 12. The agency first promulgated its NEPA regulations in 2008, and while there have been some modifications over the years, this is the first overhaul of the agency’s NEPA regulations in over a decade.

The Forest Service’s stated goal is to “complete project decision making in a timelier manner, improve or eliminate inefficient processes and steps, and, where appropriate, increase the scale of analysis and the number of activities in a single analysis and decision.”


All federal land management agencies, including the Forest Service, are required to follow NEPA procedures for applicable decisions and give proper consideration to the environment. Generally, the NEPA process comes with multiple opportunities for public involvement and coordination with local, state and federal partners.

NEPA does not prohibit impacts to the environment, but rather requires agencies to analyze and disclose impacts prior to making a final decision. In this way, NEPA assures that both the decision-maker and the public are fully aware of impacts and the balance of pros and cons for an action. Importantly, this process can also identify unacceptable risks and opportunities to mitigate impacts to fish and wildlife habitat or if necessary, deny a project.

As noted in NEPA’s implementing regulations, “NEPA’s purpose is not to generate paperwork—even excellent paperwork—but to foster excellent action. the NEPA process is intended to help public officials make decisions that are based on understanding of environmental consequences, and take actions that protect, restore, and enhance the environment.”

Why it matters for TU:

Because TU is both an advocacy and restoration organization, we find ourselves on both sides of NEPA. When we partner with the Forest Service on restoration projects located on public land, those projects must go through the applicable NEPA process, which can be cumbersome. On the other hand, the NEPA process allows TU to have a say in projects that could harm coldwater fisheries – such as poorly sited energy development or logging projects – and bring our expertise to the table to ensure trout and salmon fisheries are given a fair shake in the decision-making process.

TU’s firsthand experience with NEPA provides us a unique perspective, and while the agency is right to seek efficiencies, this rulemaking should not erode the basic tenets of NEPA: public involvement, transparency, and informed decisions affecting America’s resources and public lands.

How will TU respond and how can you help?

  • Trout Unlimited will file comprehensive comments. Comments are due by August 26th.
  • An outline of key points is provided below.

    Make your voice heard: go to the rulemaking homepage on and click on the Comment Now! button to speak up for your public lands. You can use the message points outlined below and TU encourages you to make your own, detailed comments about why public lands matter to you!

Need some help? Check out our “how to” guidance for commenting.

Connect with your Council leadership: Several TU Councils have been following this rulemaking and may have additional guidance on engagement from TU leaders in your state.

Highlights and our view:

  • Collaboration is one of the most important tools for fostering efficient land management. When projects are conceived, developed and implement in a collaborative manner, the result is not only increased efficiency, but also more durable decisions less prone to legal challenges. Strengthening opportunities for collaboration should be a primary objective of the revised regulations.
  • Hunters and anglers must be assured that the revised regulations will not erode opportunities for meaningful public involvement in decisions affecting their public lands. Soliciting input at the beginning of the NEPA process, called scoping, is an important part of any decision. Unfortunately, the proposed rule would eliminate scoping from all but the most complex projects. The final rule must allow for scoping and meaningful public involvement.

  • The proposed rule includes ten new categorical exclusions that exempt certain project from comprehensive NEPA review. These categorical exclusions fall into three categories: (1) those covering infrastructure activities, (2) those covering special uses, and (3) those covering restoration activities. Categorical exclusions that allow projects to be exempted from further NEPA review can be useful tools to expedite projects that are reasonably expected to have minimal adverse environmental effects. However, categorical exclusions must include a narrow focus and adequate sideboards to prevent unexpected impacts on important fisheries, or misapplication when a more robust process should be utilized.

  • An important check to ensure that categorical exclusions are properly used is the “extraordinary circumstances” review. Under current practice, if an extraordinary circumstance is present, such as the potential for significant impacts to a threatened species, then a more thorough review is required. The proposed rule would eliminate the existing requirement to consider impacts to the agency’s Sensitive Species list, which includes numerous native trout species, including Westslope cutthroat, Bonneville cutthroat and Colorado River cutthroat trout. Additionally, the proposal does not add Species of Conservation Concern, a new classification developed by the agency. The final proposal must require consideration of the agency’s Sensitive Species list, as well as the Species of Conservation Concern, as applicable.

  • Timber harvest on up to 4,200 acres would be categorically excluded from further NEPA review so long as at least one “restoration” activity is included. Any categorical exclusion for restoration should be limited to projects where restoration is the true priority and not an afterthought, and include meaningful sideboards to ensure that the categorical exclusion is not applied haphazardly. Allowances for permanent roads must be eliminated and there should be a requirement that all activities directly address environmental impairments, resulting in a net conservation gain.

  • Determinations of NEPA adequacy could help relieve the agency of redundant NEPA reviews by establishing a consistent process for determining if an existing analysis is adequate. This decision must not be made in a vacuum. Public involvement – including scoping — and consultation with stakeholders, applicable resource professionals, and partners is necessary to ensure that this decision is fully informed. Additionally, the determination cannot be a simple yes or no. The deciding official should be required to not only answer if an existing analysis is sufficient, but more importantly why it is sufficient. The final rule must support meaningful public engagement and require clear explanation of NEPA adequacy determinations.

  • Funding for agency staff and programs is needed. Creating efficient processes is about more than revising regulations. Without sufficient funding and qualified resource professionals, streamlining NEPA is just a band-aid on a bigger problem. Since 1995, there has been a nearly 40% decline in non-fire personnel. That means fewer biologists, fewer engineers, fewer hydrologists, fewer trail crews and fewer professionals to conduct timely, thorough NEPA procedures. Ensuring adequate funding is an issue that Congress and the Administration must address to not only ensure healthier forests, but a healthier Forest Service.

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Remind me again… what is PLREDA and why should I care?

Bill would help to advance renewable energy projects on public lands in a manner that protects fish and wildlife habitat, and strengthens local economies and communities

What is PLREDA?

On July 17, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA) introduced the bipartisan Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act (PLREDA).

Congressman Gosar’s press release on the bill is available, HERE.
Congressman Levin’s press release is HERE.
A joint press release from Trout Unlimited, BHA and TRCP is HERE.

The Public Land Renewable Energy Act would create a new system for efficient, responsible renewable energy development on public lands. By identifying priority areas for wind, solar and geothermal development, PLREDA encourages smart siting and efficient permitting of projects in places with high potential for energy and low impact on wildlife and habitat.

Critically, the act would also strategically direct the royalty revenue from development to invest in local communities, fish and wildlife resources and more efficient permitting for renewable energy projects.


The nation’s public lands system provides Americans with the some of the world’s richest opportunities for outdoor recreation. In some cases, federal holdings also represent a reasonable setting for well-planned and properly mitigated renewable energy development projects. These energy projects could stimulate job growth, reduce carbon pollution, and contribute to the protection and restoration of fish and wildlife habitat on public lands.

Utility-scale wind and solar projects are a growing presence on our public lands. These projects will help us move toward a clean energy future, but can take up large chunks of land for long periods of time, and may cause some unavoidable impacts on fish, wildlife and water resources and recreational access. The Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act provides the conservation counterbalance to unavoidable impacts on our public lands.

PLREDA offers a way to offset issues created by development on public lands by designating a conservation fund derived from royalties and other revenues generated by wind and solar energy projects operating on federal land. The bill also directs a portion of the royalty and lease revenues from public land wind and solar projects to compensate for states and counties impacted by development. Read more about the bill details in our factsheet.

Why this Matters for Trout Unlimited

Public lands contain some of the most valuable trout and salmon habitat in the nation. In most western states, public lands comprise more than 70 percent of the available habitat for native trout, representing the vast majority of remaining strongholds for coldwater species. PLREDA offers a way to advance development of renewable energy on public lands in a responsible and innovative fashion, while also ensuring funds flow back into Trout Unlimited’s critical on-the-ground conservation work that benefits anglers and downstream communities.

Click here to see the TU PLREDA Factsheet and learn more about the bill.

How you can help

TAKE ACTION HERE! We need your help to build even more support for PLREDA. Urge your member of Congress to sign on as co-sponsor of the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act.

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