Fishing is Not Conservation

There’s a phrase I hear a lot in the hunting world. “Hunting is conservation.” The logic behind the expression is that hunters pay an excise tax on gear and licenses that goes toward the protection of wildlife. This is true, and very beneficial. It’s a major contributor to the wellbeing of wild environments. However, recently there has been a counterargument that by itself, hunting is not conservation. This point has been raised in some form or another by respectable figures within the industry, such as Ben O’Brien from the Hunting Collective, and Brian Call from the Gritty Bowmen.

This intrigued me, as many of the people countering the phrase are people I respect. The more they explained, the more I understood their side. Their point was that it’s not enough to pay a mandatory (and often unknown by the buyer) tax on gear they would have purchased anyway. Most of these people would hunt regardless of a forced tax contributing to conservation, because of their love for hunting. To stop at the tax and never contribute more, while at the same time preaching that hunting is conservation, is lazy.

This point hit home with me. To stand behind mandated contribution to conservation and take credit is not enough. As much as I wholeheartedly support the Pittman-Robertson Act (which is behind the excise tax), conservation does not ride solely on its back. The need for additional money, action, and vocal support is still as prevalent as always if we want to maintain our wildlife and wild places.

What troubles me more, however, is how infrequently I even hear conservation come up in the fishing world. It comes up for hunting because hunting is often attacked by outside groups. It’s a good defense when people criticize hunters: “But hunting is conservation!” What about fishing?

Is fishing conservation?

Fishermen, like hunters, pay an excise tax on gear and licenses. Instead of the Pittman-Robertson Act, anglers pay their own tax thanks to the Dingell-Johnson Act. Like Pittman-Robertson, this tax is mandatory, and many people don’t even realize they pay it. While I once again wholeheartedly believe that the tax contributes greatly to the protection of our beloved fish, it’s not enough.

Fishing, and more specifically fly fishing, is rarely attacked by the public, at least compared to hunting. It’s not something that often needs to be defended. Because of that, I seldom even hear the word “conservation” come up in fishing conversation. That in itself is unsettling, since we must conserve aquatic habitats and species just as much as elk, deer, or bears. With that being said, fishing, like hunting, is not conservation. It contributes to it, but it also requires it. We need to do more than pay a tax.

A brook trout caught on a fly is held in a person's hand
Getting involved ensures the protection of species we love

Getting involved after the receipt

The Dingell-Johnson excise tax contributes a huge amount of money toward the protection of the fish we love. Whether you’re a diehard trout angler, a deep-sea fisherman, or a parent who takes a child to the park to catch crappies, we all benefit from having healthy, intact aquatic ecosystems.

It’s absolutely vital, though, that we continue to contribute after we leave the fly shop. Don’t let your only contribution live on a receipt. There are so many ways to get involved and earn the label of conservationist. These can be monetary, symbolic, or boots-on-the-ground efforts, and all are crucial to the cause. If you fish, and agree that we need more than just a tax, here are some ways to get involved.

Join an organization

These days, it’s easier than ever to find organizations that care about the resources we want to protect. Many have chapters across the US and can be joined for a year or a lifetime. Membership fees for these groups go toward conservation, and many also hold raffles or auctions to raise even more money. In addition to financial support, you can also help out by volunteering. Creek cleanups, community events, children’s clinics, and organizational boards all need volunteers to operate. If you’re unable to contribute financially, donating time can be just as good as money, if not better.

For fly fishermen, two organizations you can join are Trout Unlimited and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

Trout Unlimited, with chapters across the country, is focused on preserving habitat and species we love to fish for. Each chapter contributes to the protection and restoration of local areas, which means you may very well be able to see the fruits of your labor directly.

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers also takes a hard stance on the protection of our public lands. Without access to public land, many people would have nowhere to fish. Supporting them by donating time or money ensures that we have healthy, intact, and accessible places to fish for years to come.

Support businesses that align with conservation

In addition to actually joining organizations that align with your views, you can also make sure your money supports companies that are on the same page.

2% for Conservation is a 501(c)(3) organization that believes both time and money are important for protecting the species and habitats we enjoy. Based on the 1% for the Planet model, 2% for Conservation partners with both businesses and individuals to “certify” them as conservation-minded.

The 2% is made up of 1% time and 1% money. For a company to become certified, they need to show that they donate 1% of their time (21 hours, based on 1% of the hours worked by the average employee in a year), and 1% of their profits to conservation. Individuals who are interested can also be certified, by showing they donate 1% of their time and 1% of their income to conservation. This doesn’t need to be in the form of straight-up donations either. Even membership dues or money paid to certified companies can count.

By supporting businesses that are certified, you can rest assured that a portion of every dollar you spend will go to help wildlife. Even though it’s only a small percentage, it adds up especially for larger companies that pull in a lot of revenue.

You can view a list of companies on their website, and these include MTN OPS, Hush, and Seek Outside, among others.

Keep an eye out for other companies that are making a difference, too. Upslope Brewing, for example, has a 1% for Rivers program that benefits Trout Unlimited. As more and more of these programs pop up, it shouldn’t be hard to find companies to support that put their money where their mouth is for conservation.

Introduce someone to fishing

Do you have a child? Or maybe that one friend who always wants to try fishing but never has? Take them! One of the best things we can do is demonstrate to others the need for conservation. It’s much easier for someone with skin in the game to understand the importance.

Getting someone into the sport doesn’t mean you need to make an avid fisher of them. Take a kid to the local pond and catch bluegill. Show an adult that the beauty of the mountains or rivers can make up for a lousy day if the fish aren’t biting. These people will not only make great fishing buddies, but also great stewards of the places we love. We can’t expect those who don’t fish to do the legwork.

Share what you do and why you do it

I don’t mean just reminding people you pay an excise tax. That’s a great start, especially since most people are unaware of it, but also share what you believe in and why you believe in it. Invite someone to a Trout Unlimited meeting. Teach someone about how native fish species are under threat. Demonstrate how you’re helping by sharing photos of trash you’ve picked up or a new fisherman you’ve taken out.

At the end of the day, the burden is on all of us to protect what we love. It rides on the shoulders of men and women who step up to the plate and give back to the resource that has given so much to them. Fishing is not conservation, but it’s a major gateway to conservation, and has some of the most avid and dedicated participants of any outdoor endeavor. With a little extra effort and a lot of passion, we can keep our favorite places alive and well for years to come.


This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Socal Gary

    Nice article!! Im live in Southern California Where we have more people than anything else. A few years ago a friend and I were fishing a popular river. We. noticed all the beer cans and plastic bottles. The locals like to come out to the river in the evenings and drive beer. It’s weird there isn’t much other trash. Instead of bitching about it we decided to pick them up and recycle the plastic and aluminum. Then give the money to a conservation group. We usually gather between $300-$400 a year. We have heard a lot of fishing friends bitch about the trash. We just figured we’d do something good with the plastic and aluminum. Yes, it takes time to take it the recycling center, but we think it’s worth it.

    1. Katie Burgert

      That’s fantastic, Gary! I often see trash out and about too, and it’s hard to understand why anyone would want to throw garbage into a beautiful lake or stream. I like to pick it up when I see it, but I never thought of using recycling money to give back. What a wonderful idea. We need more people putting in effort to take care of their home waters. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Aaron Wegener

    “Hunting and fishing *FUND* conservation.” I hear that all the time. In Colorado we have license plates that say it. Hunters, fisherman, and OHV riders are acutely aware of all the other outdoor hobbyists basically freeloading off of our contribution. The “burden” is not on all of us. Is there a national excise tax on mountain bikes, tents, hiking boots, long range camera lenses etc? Your post here diminishing our contribution is insulting. I would agree that we should take a more active role in conservation management because we have the biggest stake in it and managers are increasingly biting the hand that feeds them. If the political left is ever successful in forcing the unconstitutional gun control laws they desire, Pittman Robertson funds will take a big hit. Are the hipsters whose flip flops and empty white claw cans I constantly clean up along the river bank going to pick up the slack? Ha ha not a chance.

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