This is my good friend, John Cleveland of Eppinger, Inc. His company makes Dardevle spoons. John is one of—how many? Hundreds? Who knows how many friends I have with jobs in this industry. Quite a few caught their lifetime-best smallmouth on my boat (you know who you are). Some of those friends are guides, some are rod designers, some make tackle boxes, many are professional fishermen—and a few are outdoor writers and editors, like me.
But that doesn’t even scratch the surface of this huge, sprawling, all-inclusive industry of ours. Included in the mix are people who make boats, canoes, and kayaks—folks who build outboard motors, trolling motors, fishing line, and fillet knives. Anybody involved in the manufacture of tents, lake maps, hiking boots, hunting rifles, mountain bikes, pitons, rain gear, fishing vests, skis, shotgun shells, ice shelters, reels, plastic worms, sleeping bags—you get the idea. The outdoor industry is magnificently huge. The Western Governor’s Association (WGA) recently compiled statistics from a combination of studies revealing that Americans spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $646 billion on outdoor recreation in 2011—over half a trillion dollars. By comparison, consumer spending on pharmaceuticals last year—on both sides of the counter—was $331 billion, according to the research. We spent less on gas and oil, less on motor vehicles, and less on household utilities than we did on outdoor recreation.
That much spending has to support a few jobs. The Outdoor Industry Association reported this year that over 6.1 million jobs are supported by fishing, hunting, camping, and other recreational pursuits within our industry—more jobs than construction and manufacturing combined. More than the oil and coal industries. Outdoor enthusiasts travel a lot, buying over $120 billion in products and another $100 billion in services supporting every kind of small business imaginable every year in “other places” with several big “ifs” attached. If the woods have game, we come. If the waters hold fish, we come. If public lands are available, we use them. And statistics on tourism nationwide will bear out that if the natural beauty of the landscape is left unscathed, many more will come than when the situation is reversed.
One fact about jobs in the fishing industry cannot be denied: As long as the habitat is maintained, fishing jobs are sustainable forever. We can always support guides, tournaments, fisheries biologists, tackle manufacturers, boat makers, etc. if the resource is protected. The same cannot be said for extraction. When the coal, oil, gas, or minerals are tapped, jobs go away for good. And all too often, jobs in tourism, the outdoor industry, and local businesses are threatened all along the way. And it doesn’t need to happen.
For example, in 2010 over 1 million gallons of Alberta Tar Sands oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, coating 40 acres of bottom with guck. The Kazoo, as Michiganders affectionately refer to her, supports runs of steelhead, salmon, and naturally-reproducing Great Lakes walleyes, but she was closed to the public for two years afterward. One EPA official said the Lake Michigan shorelines surrounding the river mouth were “trashed” for months. Certainly, that could not have served the local guides, charters, tackle shops, and marinas very well at all.
The effects of the spill on employment and the local economy were studied by Cornell University. Enbridge (see Keystone Pipeline), the firm responsible for the spill, purchased over 130 homes on or near the river. “This spill affected the health of hundreds of residents, displaced residents, hurt businesses, and caused a loss of jobs.” Overall, surrounding communities suffered damages estimated at $725 million, according to the study. And Kalamazoo is not alone. Between 2007 and 2010, pipelines transporting Alberta Tar Sands oils spilled “three times more oil per mile than the US national average for crude” with devastating economic effects—a significant portion of which were experienced by the outdoor industry. All of which fairly screams: Safety regulations not only need to be left alone but expanded, to protect our health, communities, fish, game, and our jobs. All of our jobs—not just some.
Certainly, if I want to break laws, and for some mysterious reason I’m given the “right” to lobby Congress to simply change the law so my activities are no longer illegal, why not? Big oil and gas firms have, so far, spent over $71 million lobbying Congress in 2012 alone. (Offhand I’d say that’s $70 million and some change more than my industry spent.) Nothing mysterious about that at all. What’s so mysterious is how they were able to convince so many that deregulation was good for our economy. Foreigners might well ask, “How’s that working out for you?” Not so good. According to the League of Conservation Voters, oil companies in America made $500 billion in profits (almost as much as outdoorsmen spent in 2012) while laying off 10,000 American workers between 2005 and 2010.
Over the years, oil firms laid out hundreds of millions to compromise or eliminate existing regulations that protect fishing resources like the Kalamazoo River, the people who live there, and their jobs. Would they continue spending that much if the strategy wasn’t working? More importantly—would the spill have happened at all if regulations and regulating agencies had not been compromised?
Why should so many permanently sustainable jobs be threatened by fewer impermanent ones? Fishing can last forever. Oil simply cannot. It’s a finite resource created by ancient organic decay. Every drop used won’t be replenished by the earth for tens of millions of years. And it’s a resource being drained by over 8o million barrels per day worldwide. Even experts within the oil industry claim that oil extraction peaked years ago, and is now in decline. Prices are soaring and we’re now sucking oil out of sand with exhorbitant effort and expense—facts that serve to prove peak production has passed.
Certainly we need manufacturing, mining, lumbering, and industries of all kinds. I don’t advocate against oil companies. I stump for fair and equal treatment for jobs in the outdoors. Like mine. Those other interests have been allowed to buy their way into a position to dominate the conversation, tossing the term “jobs” around as if they owned a monopoly on employment while laying people off. They have billions to spare to influence people in that regard. I’m slightly prejudiced, but it seems clear that jobs in the outdoor industry are cleaner, more permanent, and far more numerous. Why should those jobs be devalued or worse yet—not considered at all? Sadly, because the outdoor industry is a crazy quilt of varied interests with no centralized voice, and no centralized lobby with big pockets. The fishing industry is just one small part of it, but the US Fish And Wildlife Service estimates that anglers generated more than $116 billion to the economy last year. Now add in the hunters, campers, bird watchers, mountain climbers, etc.
How much of that lifeblood for our struggling economy is lost every time a poorly-regulated pipeline gives way? How many Dardeveles could John have sold to anglers on the Kalamazoo last year, if they were permitted to fish there at all?