Friday, March 1, 2024

PEW honcho in spotlight

Most Aussie anglers had probably never heard of the American organisation Pew Charitable Trusts until earlier this year when it started lobbying the federal Government to turn our Coral Sea into a vast no-fishing zone.
Even now many Aussie fishos remain in the dark about what Pew is and what its motivations are. Pew describes itself as a “a knowledge-based advocate for policy solutions in the areas of the environment, state issues, economic concerns, and the health and financial security of the American people”.
So why is it getting involved with Australian fisheries issues? Doug Olander, editor-in-chief of leading US magazine Sport Fishing recently conducted an exclusive interview with Pew Environment Group managing director Josh Reichert. According to Olander, Reichert “arguably wields more influence in the area of marine conservation in the United States and the world” than any other individual environmental activist.

“Whether one agrees with what Reichert says or not, we think it’s critical to hear his thoughts on issues of concern to anglers and the larger recreational-fishing community,” Olander said in the introduction to his wide-ranging interview.

Fisho has republished Olander’s interview with Pew’s Reichert in full below. The Coral Sea is mentioned only briefly but it’s still interesting to see what makes Pew – and its leaders – tick.


Sport Fishing magazine Interviews the Pew Environmental Group’s Managing Director

The Pew Charitable Trusts ( describes itself as “a knowledge-based advocate for policy solutions in the areas of the environment, state issues, economic concerns, and the health and financial security of the American people.” Backed by Pew’s assets that approach $6 billion is Pew’s powerful worldwide Environment Group. For the first time in his 20-year tenure heading up that major part of Pew, Josh Reichert has granted an interview to a sport-fishing publication. Arguably, no single individual among all environmental organizations wields more influence in the area of marine conservation in the United States and the world. Whether one agrees with what Reichert says or not, we think it’s critical to hear his thoughts on issues of concern to anglers and the larger recreational-fishing community. Certainly, Sport Fishing does not necessarily agree, and certainly, this interview is in no way an endorsement of Pew. Its purpose is solely to give sport-fishing interests the chance to better understand — and therefore deal with — the motivation and direction of the environmental manager of Pew. We would welcome the reaction of those who read this and will look for that at, where readers can go to share their thoughts. —  Ed.

SF: Let’s start with Josh Reichert. How long have you managed the Pew Environment Group?   

I’ve been the managing director of the group since 1990. The Environment Group of the Trusts consists of over 120 people and is a professionally and geographically diverse group of scientists, communications professionals, lawyers and policy experts.

SF: Would you describe yourself as an angler?

When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time fishing, predominantly fly-fishing. While I love to fish, it’s difficult for me to find the time these days to get out on the water.

SF: What negative and/or positive associations do you have with the sport?

I certainly don’t have a negative attitude about fishing. It’s a widely popular sport, and as long as it’s done in ways that don’t damage the marine environment, it’s a fine thing to do.

SF: Is this, in nearly 20 years [as head of the environment group], your first-ever interview with a major sport-fishing publication?

As far as I can remember.

SF: Why?

I don’t think anyone’s ever asked [for an interview].

SF: What is Pew’s [environmental] mission?

As a whole, our mission is to strengthen environmental quality on land and in the oceans. We work on three very specific problems: the mitigation of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change; the protection of large, still relatively intact ecosystems on public lands; and the protection of the ocean environment, with a predominant focus on marine fisheries. With regard to our oceans work, we recognize that ultimately, global warming’s impact on the world’s marine environment will dwarf the problem of fishing. But at the moment, no activity is responsible for so much destruction of life in the sea as industrial fishing.

SF: You mentioned industrial fishing. How do you see recreational fishing fitting into the overall concern with consumptive use?

There are problems with both commercial and recreational fisheries. For some overfished species, the predominant problem is sport fishing, although for most it is large-scale industrial fishing.

SF: Would you say the two [types of fishing] are similar in terms of their significance to the problem of overfishing?

No. The impact of industrial fishing is much more profound worldwide. However, we have management challenges that need to be addressed in both recreational and commercial fisheries. Our work is aimed at reducing the decline of these populations in ways that make them more sustainable and healthier.
SF: Sport fishermen by and large tend to view themselves as conservationists. To what extent do you feel sport fishermen really are conservationists, and how significant is that?

I would assume that most are and, if asked, the majority of weekend anglers would say that the resource should be managed in ways that keep it healthy. In that sense, I think there is a conservation ethic among a large percent of recreational fishermen.

SF: How important is that [conservation ethic] to Pew’s goals?

It becomes a much more important variable if we can find ways to work together. There are certainlylarge numbers of anglers who, if organized effectively, could be a significant force for conservation.

SF: There’s a growing anxiety among anglers around the country about the loss of opportunity
to pursue their sport. Many relate that directly, rightly or wrongly, to Pew. Are you aware of this?

I’m certainly aware of the anxiety. In many cases, it’s misplaced. Oceans cover more than 70 percent of the surface of the earth.  But the amount now closed to fishing in the form of reserves is infinitesimal — far less than 1 percent.

SF: I don’t think it’s fair to measure closed areas against the entire ocean. What counts [to anglers] is where the closed areas are. If you consider closed areas as a percentage of prime coastal fishing grounds, it’s not quite so infinitesimal.

Consider two large areas that have been declared marine reserves in recent years, both of which we worked on — the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and the Marianas Trench. There was virtually no recreational fishing in either of those [remote] places at all. Yet certain members of the recreational-fishing community opposed both as a matter of principle.

SF: But that goes back to my point about anxiety over loss of opportunity. That is the thought: If it’s OK [to close off large areas] over there, the next thing you know, it will be OK over here.

I’ve heard that concern — that if a reserve is created in one place, it opens the door to having them everywhere. In my opinion, that’s a rather silly position to take. It’s tantamount to opposing the creation of the Grand Canyon National Park on the grounds that it will result in tying up the entire country in national parks. Look, we believe in reserves. I think there are certain places where fishing and other extractive activity should not be allowed. That said, our work in marine reserves is a relatively small percentage of what we do. To date, our major efforts to establish reserves have been the two mentioned above. We have not been involved in major efforts in the lower 48, except in Oregon, or Alaska to create reserves in U.S. coastal waters. That’s not to say that we might not in the future. But our main focus has been on reducing the destructive impact of commercial fishing.

SF: How do you account for the perception that Pew wants to close off much of the ocean to fishing?

I think it is mainly the result of efforts by some fishing organizations to whip up their constituencies in order to help them recruit members and raise money. Anybody who looks closely at our work will quickly understand that this is a ridiculous allegation. With the exception of the Oregon coast, our reserve work is now focused predominantly overseas and on three areas: the Coral Sea and some other areas of Australia, New Zealand’s Kermadec Trench and the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean. We may add places to that list in the future, but right now, that’s the extent of it.

SF: With all of its resources, couldn’t Pew set as a goal the need to change the perceptions of the recreational-fishing community that you’ve cited? 

There are a few people and organizations that have a vested interest in creating these false perceptions and are likely to continue to do so no matter what we do or say. If anyone takes the trouble to read the materials we make available, which go to great pains to explain what we’re doing in the world, it will become very clear what we are doing and what we are not.

SF: But if Pew considers that situation something it would like to change, it must realize that most anglers are not going to go online and dig through Pew’s website.

Given the tremendous problems facing marine fisheries in this country and elsewhere in the world, it’s a pity that so much of the recreational-fishing community’s attention is focused on reserves. Frankly, there are a lot more serious problems to tackle that constitute real threats to recreational fisheries than reserves, which, ironically, will ultimately help strengthen recreational fisheries, not hurt them. Regarding reserves, I think that reasonable people from both sides of the debate can sit down and establish a middle ground where there’s a higher comfort level than currently exists. We have repeatedly made clear that we are not in the business of trying to close off the world’s oceans to recreational fishermen and will continue to take advantage of opportunities to publicize and amplify that message.

SF: But my point is that a lack of outreach has positioned Pew in the minds of many anglers as a pariah, an entity that sits up in an ivory tower and dictates [policy] to fishermen. If you/Pew genuinely feel [relations with recreational fishermen] are important, I don’t think you can sit back and wait for invitations that may never come rather than create an active outreach program.

We have staff members in numerous places around the United States who interact constantly with both recreational and commercial fishermen. There’s a lot of contact on the ground, and our positions on these issues have been published in hundreds of opinion editorials, letters to the editor and responses to media questions over the years. I don’t think the problem is lack of outreach. Rather, it is the concerted effort of some fishing organizations to simply distort what we do.

SF: In terms of Pew’s goal to end overfishing, red snapper management comes to mind. I think many anglers are willing to sacrifice if that needs to be done. But while our best science now says red snapper are badly overfished, there seems to be across-the-board agreement [within the recreational-fishing community] that there are more and larger snapper in the Atlantic and the Gulf than ever. Do you feel there could be validity to the claims that the science is not up to date?

Science is rarely foolproof. But good science is the best vehicle we have to assess ocean health. We do the best we can to sort out the good science from that which is not. Like most conservation organizations, we tend to take a precautionary stance in situations where there is doubt, preferring to err on the side of conservation than gambling with the resource. There are a lot of issues that both Pew and the recreational-fishing community care about and on which we ought to be working together. The loss of top [marine] predators is one, for example. There’s a tragedy going on with sharks in the world, with up to 100 million of these animals being killed every year. Populations of big billfish are in terrible trouble. We’ve got tremendously destructive gear such as longlines and bottom trawls that ought to be banned. Forage fish, which are so important to many recreational fisheries, are in need of better management. And the list goes on. 

SF: Yet ironically, when anglers think of Pew, rather than thinking about protecting billfish, they think about “taking away my rights.”

If “rights” are defined as the ability to destroy fisheries that are the backbone of the recreational industry, then we plead guilty to trying to curtail destructive fishing behavior. There’s only so much we can do to set the record straight. If some people want to continue to insist that there’s something Machiavellian going on about what we’re doing or that we’re trying to disguise our “real intentions,” the best we can do is to be absolutely transparent about our work and then get on with the job of preventing overfishing and rebuilding populations that are so critical to both the commercial and recreational fishing industries. 







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