Reporting from Washington — Despite Internet reports to the contrary, White House officials say a federal task force will in no way, shape or form suggest that President Obama restrict sportfishing off America's coasts and in the Great Lakes.
In recent weeks, fishing groups and bloggers across the country have raised concerns that the president's was set to impose new restrictions, or even an outright ban, on a treasured national pastime.
How did this get started?
The outcry was spawned by an opinion column on ESPNoutdoors.com, since clarified by the site's editors, which claimed the largely obscure task force was drafting a "federal strategy that could prohibit U.S. citizens from fishing some of the nation's oceans, coastal areas, Great Lakes, and even inland waters."
Is that the case?
Administration officials say no. The final report from the task force "will not be recommending to the president any new restrictions on recreational fishing," said Nancy Sutley, who heads the White House the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "Unequivocally."
What is this task force, and why the controversy?
It's a collection of federal officials trying to point the government toward a comprehensive plan for managing the nation's vast maritime resources, including oceans and the Great Lakes. Task force recommendations aren't final yet, but they're due to Obama soon.
Fishing groups worry that the task force could advocate restrictions on catches and the designation of protected areas, where fishing would be banned altogether. The groups also worry about new layers of bureaucracy for anglers to navigate.
Jim Donofrio, executive director of the , a sportfishing group, said he didn't believe Obama would ban sportfishing. "But is he going to make it hard, almost impossible, for people to go fishing?" Donofrio said. "That's the fear."
How does the administration respond to those fears?
By promising to keep fisheries management procedures in place.
The Interior Department, which manages vast stretches of the nation's inland waterways, released a fact sheet Tuesday denying any intent to restrict sportfishing and declaring it was "working with our state and federal partners to expand recreational fishing opportunities across the nation."
Eric Schwaab, assistant administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which overseas federal ocean fishing policy, said the government acknowledged "the important role that recreational fishing plays both socially and economically across the country." Schwaab, a sportfisherman himself, said, "We recognize the important role that fishermen play in advancing conservation."