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Flyfishing in Saltwaters, July/Aug 2006
COASTAL CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION (CCA)
If you’re not a member yet, you really should be
By Captain John McMurray
If you are a saltwater flyfisher odds are you are aware of the work CCA does. Their national office is based in Texas but the organization’s presence spans the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic seaboard. Member-run state and local grassroots chapters extend from Texas to Maine. CCA has been active in every national fisheries debate since 1984 and has been an influence in state and federal fisheries management issues for longer than two decades. The organization’s presence in the federal court system has been critical in conserving important sport fisheries. CCA’s Legal Defense Fund has been used to defend net bans and the implementation of bycatch reduction devices, and to support pro-fisheries conservation legislation.
The movement began in 1977 after drastic commercial overfishing along the Texas coast had depleted redfish and speckled trout populations. Fourteen concerned Texas anglers managed to organize and launch a successful "Save the Redfish" campaign that eventually swept across the entire Gulf Coast, hence the birth of the Gulf Coast Conservation Association. By decade’s end, chapters had sprung up throughout the mid-Atlantic region, and by the early ‘90s, several New England state chapters were formed.
Today, CCA and its state-chapter network are engaged in hundreds of local, state and national efforts related to marine conservation, such as initiating scientific studies, funding marine-science scholarships, building artificial reefs, creating hatcheries, initiating hydrologic and pollution studies, supporting local marine law enforcement and more. CCA continues to affect the fisheries management process on a number of fronts. Through an extensive web of grassroots volunteer committees and boards, CCA’s state and/or national volunteer executive committees vote to adopt all policies and positions. Every position is based on facts, strategy and over 20-years of experience.
A registered lobbyist in Washington D.C. represents CCA’s interests. Bob Hayes has been involved in the fight to conserve and protect our fisheries for two decades. Also working for American Sportfishing Association and the Billfish Foundation, he is considered to be one of the best strategists on Capital Hill. He also happens to be the White House-appointed recreational commissioner to International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. CCA also retains as many as 17 state and federal professional lobbyists.
However, CCA is under a lot of scrutiny lately, particularly in the northeast. Once strong state Chapters in the region with Executive Directors and staff positions have become all-volunteer organizations with diminishing membership numbers. Why is this happening?
What separates CCA from other angling groups is the organization’s firm belief that the needs of the fish must come before the needs of any user group, including anglers. While most of this magazine’s readership, and saltwater flyfishers in general, probably believe that to be a reasonably good approach, others in the angling community subscribe to the “what’s in it for me” philosophy. This is particularly true of the for-hire industry (charter and party or “head” boats) and many tackle dealers, both of which profit from a public resource. They want more fish for their customers to take home so they can do more business hence they provide all sorts of rationale to justify taking “just a few more fish.” CCA is famed in the Northeast for opposing the “few more fish” approach and advocating conservation, and that hasn’t earned them many points with industry or the angling press.
As a recreational fishing advocacy group as well as a conservation organization CCA must often walk a fine line between its two missions. While they go together, in many cases the connection isn’t always obvious. When it comes to allocation vs. conservation choices CCA will almost always advocate a precautionary lower size and bag limit, constraining anglers today, but assuring better fishing in the future. In my book, that’s a good thing, but in the northeast, there exists the constant litany of "getting your ‘fair’ share NOW!" that has colored the fisheries debate in the last 10 years, and has changed the fisheries ethic in the northeast.
Furthermore, some anglers in the Northeast region claim that CCA doesn’t cater to pressing local concerns. That is because CCA takes a very particular, experienced based approach to issues. If a position isn’t science-based and politically feasible than CCA will wait until it is before acting on it. Take the issue of ‘game-fish status” for striped bass. Although CCA does have a national position supporting that goal, there has been much gnashing-of-teeth about how it hasn’t pursued it aggressively enough. According to CCA’s Atlantic States director, Dick Brame, the most likely path to game-fish status, and the only one that has been successful in the past, is through the state legislatures rather than Congress. “We have supported such state legislation in the past, and will continue to support it in any state where it has a realistic chance of passage. However, with striped bass populations currently at a relatively high levels and with recreational fishermen responsible for about 75% of the annual harvest, few legislators would even consider introducing such a bill today, and the possibility of having one passed is extremely remote. We wouldn't mislead our members by suggesting otherwise.”
CCA is directly responsible for establishing game-fish status for a number of different species in a number of different states. They did so by using science, political climate, grass-roots organizing and most importantly, correct timing. I understand the impatience, but the point is, there’s a lot of experience here and when the time and situation is right, I have confidence that CCA will step up for striped bass, too.
There also seems to be some concern in the northeast that CCA has been unwilling to establish coalitions with local groups. To maintain credibility on a national as well as state and local levels, CCA is rightfully particular about who it forms coalitions with. Any coalition they enter into must be carefully vetted ensuring that it fits into the overall conservation mission of the organization. "We work to conserve the marine resource first, and if joining a coalition helps that, then we do, but we never join a coalition just to join a coalition," said Bob Hayes "Our Committees and Board steer our conservation vision. If we can join with like-minded groups to meet that end, all the better, but it's still about proper conservation first and foremost."
There have been a number of local groups that are popping up here and there to deal with local issues they feel CCA is not addressing. Such groups have my full support if they do in fact take a proactive conservation-first approach and end up doing more for the resource than just grabbing a larger piece of the pie for themselves, holding tournaments and events, etc... But, when such groups base their entire existence on negative smear campaigns that point the proverbial finger at CCA and complain about what it couldn’t do for them, then I’m somewhat critical. I’m not discouraging folks from joining these groups, but I urge all current CCA members to keep their membership and support up to date. CCA is the best organization we have representing individual recreational fishermen right now. With the exception of only one issue, they have historically and consistently taken a conservation-first stance on issues. While they may not appear to be active in the Northeast, behind the scenes they are, have been and will continue to be very effective. CCA needs the support of the saltwater flyfishing community, particularly now. If you are not a member yet, do yourself and the fish you target a favor. Join today at www.joincca.org.