FISHING IN AMERICA - AN OVERVIEW
Welcome to Fishing in America, our newest four part series on one of the country’s most sacred traditions. With its origins ingrained in the founding of our country, fishing exemplifies our heritage and hopefully our future. Although the history of fishing is rather long, it is very important for us to understand.
In the first part of the series, we aim to give background on some of the earliest forms of fishing, what led to modern anglers and fishing industry, what fishing provides for society, the issues it faces, and where it will be headed in the coming years.
The $90 billion industry that is U.S. fishing promotes American food production, economy and culture (1). We are truly thankful to continue to rely on this outdoor recreation that our ancestors have enjoyed for centuries before us.
A History of Fishing
Before continuing to the history of fishing in America, it is important to note that this was developed long before the first colonists reached America. The utilization of fishing techniques is intertwined with the development of the human species.
In eastern Africa, we have found fragments from the cichlid tilapia and catfish that were discovered with the remains of Homo habilis, and later Homo erectus, near a shallow lake. These remains date back over 500,000 years and from that period forward there is abundant evidence that fish have been used both for food and a wide range of other needs (2).
Indication in North America of fish having been used before European settlers arrived is evident. When European settlers did arrive, they too relied heavily on the sea for subsistence. King Charles I of England even guaranteed Lord Baltimore the rights to “Fishings of every kind of Fish as well as Whales, Sturgeons and other royal fish in the Sea, Bays, Straits, or Rivers within the premises… [and] …the Liberty of Fishing for Sea-Fish as well in the Sea, Bays, Straits and navigable rivers … of the Province” with the Maryland Charter of 1632 (3).
By the early 1700s, commercial fishing was in place along the Southern Atlantic coastline, making fishing the first major colonial industry. Fishing continued to sustain families on the east coast and even supplemented the food supply of families moving inland, who fished in rivers and lakes.
It is apparent that without the fishing industry and the food it provided for our ancestors, than America might not exist today. Fishing has always been a major producer of food, but it was not until after World War II that recreational fishing became its own dominant force, creating modern anglers and their industry.
Although they were not large, wealthy angling clubs started recreational fishing in the 1870s, attempting to facilitate access to fishing sites and protect from declining catches. These clubs blamed poachers, pollution, and the building of new dams for the decline in fish stocks and urged lawmakers to regulate fishing. This led to the modern government regulation of recreational fishing and some of the first conservationist efforts in America.
These anglers attempted to catch a variety of different fish. Before catch-and-release was conceptualized a lot of the anglers focused on trout, because of the better taste.
In the 1900s, however, bass became one of the most popular sport fish due to its natural attraction to bait, lures, and artificial flies. The first bass fishing tournaments and fishing televisions shows started in 1968 and the Bass Angler Sportsman Society (4) had over 500,000 members by the 1990s. They still sit at around 600,000 members today.
Each year modern recreational fishing becomes more complex, but it's all in the attempt to make fishing even more enjoyable. The types of boats, fish finders, lures, and reels have all been tested by some of the best minds in fishing technology around the world. America truly is a hub for fishing innovation.
However, with the start of the animal rights movement in the second half of the twentieth century, there seems to be growing opposition to fishing and its inherent American qualities.
Modern animal rights activists object to fishing. They consider all fishermen, 1 in 7 of Americans over the age of 16, “exploiters” of animals, even if they catch and release the fish back into their natural habitats.
They go to great lengths to ignore the positive aspects of the fishing industry, opting for their own supposed “statistics” that fish feel psychological shock. These individuals have yet to make any major headway in their quest to “give rights” to these aquatic creatures. Americans continue to fish and consume seafood at an impressive rate. The average American ate 14.4 pounds of seafood in 2012 (5). Nevertheless, these radicals continue to ignore public opinion and are moving forward with their own agendas.
Where We Are
The most impressive impact that fishing has on America is undoubtedly economic. 33 million people aged 16 and older participate in recreational fishing. Anglers alone, taking out fishing as a food producing industry, produce over 828,000 jobs in the U.S. and the taxes on recreational fishing contribute huge sums to maintenance funds directly benefitting fish and habitats. In some cases these taxes, not radical animal rights organizations, are the only source of capital that these programs and projects have to purchase and maintain the land for habitats (6).
There are recreational fishing license programs in all 50 states that allow anglers to fish on public land for anywhere from $42.69 in California to just $5 in Hawaii, all of this money going back to conservation efforts. The average cost of one of these licenses is just under $21 (7).
People of all age, race, and social class love to fish. Statistics show that a similar percentage of Americans from all income brackets and most ages participate in this American tradition (8). Fishing has been and will continue to be vital to American heritage, economy, food production and general way of life for families across the nation.
Fishing is a thriving industry, both recreational and food producing. The direct and indirect impact from something we all grew up knowing is simply amazing. If we can fend off circling animal rights activists, perhaps our kids will read an article like this one day and think back to their first fishing experience, remembering the impact it had on them.
The current climate for fishing is fairly decent. Americans love their seafood and valuable family time, and fishing goes hand-in-hand with that. However, some groups are beginning their prowl. There has been a recent surge in the amount of radical animal rights organizations that have been “conducting studies” and pushing propaganda to have Americans believe that fish feel pain and anxiety just as much as humans.
One of the more absurd claims is that fish feel physiological stress and shock, and they are beginning to target the fishing industry like they have hunting and pet ownership. Objections in the way fish are caught, filleted, or even released are all beginning to materialize. Fishermen could eventually face a torrent of legislative battles intended to end fishing as we know it.
It is clear the advantages that such an industry has brought for Americans throughout its history. The question is, will we and our children continue to reap the benefits of this practice, or will we allow radical animal rights groups to snatch this thriving industry from our families?
The Future of Fishing
As always, we must start with winning the legislative battles to come. So far public support looks good; it is only a small portion of the population that is too ill-informed to see the benefits of fishing. But the fights to come will only intensify. Animal rights extremists have already begun campaigning to change the mind of the public to a corrupted way of thinking. We must actively keep the general public up to date with the facts and statistics that support fishing so that they can present the case for fishing themselves in a necessary manner.
Perhaps many who oppose fishing haven’t tried it. They can’t care about the benefits of feeding humans or maintaining and conserving wildlife habitats, because their tunnel vision only allows them to focus on the liberation of these animals. Not even the loss of jobs and revenue for the state, and thus wildlife habitats, matters to these people.
It cannot be stressed enough the importance of the difference between “animal rights” (a baseless term with no real meaning) and animal welfare. Anglers and sportsmen are providing the capability to curb wildlife populations from getting out of hand and conserve species and habitats, all while keeping American tradition alive. Fishing is a major part of that, helping the world maintain its balance and providing so much for fish and aquatic life through its funding and support.
Remember that first time you were taken fishing by your dad, grandpa or uncle? Most of us do. These are cherished memories. It is the fuel that will help us reach those who have not already made the radical decision to support groups like HSUS or PETA in attempts to end fishing, but are still questioning the benefits of the industry. Please share these memories and do not hesitate to create new ones this summer, all in an attempt to save fishing of course.
We encourage you to support any local groups and organizations that give American fishing and heritage the respect that it deserves. With the passionate supporters of the industry and with the impact of fishing ever growing, there are many reasons to be excited about the future of American fishing.
2. The Role of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Human Nutrition – Vol. II- A History of Fishing – D.F. Gartside and I.R. Kerkegaard
3. Gone Fishing! American Philatelic Society 2011
5. Fisheries of the United States 2012 A statistical snapshot of 2012 fishing Landings
6. American Sportfishing Association January 2013
7. Understanding the Impact of Changes to North Carolina’s Hunting and Fishing license Structure and Fee Schedule
8. 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation