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.