Beware of wooden fish disguised as a gift from a friend. In this case the “Friend” is the sport fishing media, which has slowly and gently been leaning towards a “sustainable” catch-and-release editorial bend. While this might seem fine on the surface, measuring advertising revenue for magazines like Swedish-owned Bonnier's Saltwater Sportsman, from radical environmentalists like the people at PEW, we must make one pause, and question the true agenda of today's outdoors media cabal. Because that's exactly what it is. Like “they” say, all you have to do is follow the money. Primary funding sources in this case is a global community with a clear anti-fishing agenda.
Stephens Capital Partners is owned by Warren Stephens of Little Rock, though their Halifax Media division was founded in 2010, and is headquartered in Daytona Beach, Florida. Included in the sales were, Florida newspapers like the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, The Ledger in Lakeland, Star-Banner in Ocala, News Chief in Winter Haven, and the Gainesville Sun in Gainesville.
The Pro- vs the Anti-Fishing Communities
Whether such management changes will lead to improved coverage of critical concern to individual anglers, still remains to be seen, but one would hope that the liberal, ‘pro-fish & anti-fishermen’ bias that is so obviously rooted in New York Times philosophy, would eventually disappear from the local outdoors news scene.
Corporate media ownership, particularly the blanket purchase of former media rivals to exist under one happy umbrella, can never be good for the individual reader or constituent. Ask any college bound high school senior about what they have been taught about capitalist theory; competition leads to innovation and more affordable pricing, without it the capitalist model is doomed to fail under monopolies and cartels.
Bonnier Corporation Enters the Media Scene
It’s not hard to find an example in the business of fishing, as a perfect illustration can be found with the arrival of Sweden’s Bonnier Group in 2007. The Stockholm-based media empire has operations in more than 20 countries around the world with divisions in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Spain. The Bonnier Corporation itself was officially formed in March of 2007, when the Swedish publishing empire purchased 18 magazines from Time Inc., including rival publications like Field & Stream and Outdoor Life, as well as, Salt Water Sportsman, Sport Fishing, Fly Fishing in Salt Waters, and Marlin magazines. Soon after, Bonnier Corporation shut down nearly all other individual office locations, and moved all operations into their Winter Park headquarters outside of Orlando, Fl.
Just who exactly is behind the move towards a more “environmentally friendly” fishing community? The Swedish firm Bonnier that owns Saltwater Sportsman has a very interesting history. And, has a very politically-powerful role among the environmental ideologues who eventually want to put an end to sport fishing – unless you're paying for the rights to access waters under their global control. Don't believe us – although the facts in this article are based solely on the truth and nothing more or less.
In the past few years, attentive hunters and anglers alike have noticed a pretty subtle shift within their favorite ‘hook & bullet’ magazines, with significantly less blood, fewer guts, and a general movement towards the preaching of ethical sporting (with heavy emphasis on ‘catch and release’ angling).
Now personally, I would never criticize a policy of conservation, but the pressure which has been heaped on our angling public in recent years is more in line with the belief of preservation over conservation. Over-arching support for blanket marine reserves, privatization schemes like catch shares, and reduction in effort and harvest by recreational fishermen, which are openly promoted by groups like Environmental Defense Fund and Pew Environment Group, has led to angler anger and frustration at the docks. In the corporate boardroom however, it’s been a different story.
PEW as a Media Revenue Source
About two years ago, pricey full-page color advertisements for Pew Environment Group began appearing regularly on the pages of Bonnier Corporation saltwater fishing magazines, including former competitors Salt Water Sportsman, Sport Fishing and Marlin. At about the same time, Sport Fishing itself published a comprehensive interview with Pew’s Joshua Reichert (who prior to joining Pew was involved in less ‘fishy’ fields like the National Security Archive in DC, the Inter-American Foundation to assist urban and rural poor in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations in the U.S. House of Representatives).
More recently, additional placement of the Pew product has been appearing in these same publications; For example, David Bard, Communications Officer at Pew Environment Group, joined Sport Fishing magazine editor Doug Olander on a Key West charter fishing adventure in the January 2012 edition. Another example is when Salt Water Sportsman’s editor John Brownlee promoted the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) as being a champion of the recreational fishing cause in December of 2011.
Being Friends with the Publisher at Saltwater Sportsman
Now... what Brownlee failed to mention of course, was that TRCP was originally founded by the Pew Charitable Trusts in part through a $2 million donation to Trout Unlimited, back around 2000. In fact, since 2002, TRCP has received upwards of $7 to $10 million in grants from Pew Charitable Trusts, as well as grants from other foundations like, David and Lucile Packard, Gordon and Betty Moore, Surdna, Turner, Norcross Wildlife, and even the Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund.
Salt Water Sportsman’s conservation editor Rip Cunningham refers to these facts as “The Great Conspiracy Theory,” claiming that those of us who dare shed light on the unholy alliance between conflicting beliefs of preservation, over conservation, are simply inventing a conspiracy “where none exists.”
“When we get down to the grass-roots level, organizations like the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, American Sportfishing Association (ASA), International Game Fish Association (IGFA), and The Billfish Foundation, are all accused of taking substantial funding from environmental organizations in return for support of catch shares in recreational fishing management,” Cunningham wrote recently in Salt Water Sportsman.
“last I heard, these organizations were all either adamantly opposed to catch shares or at least strongly skeptical that they would work for recreational fisheries.” Cunningham added.
Following the Money
Well, I did check Rip, and the last I read, it was the CCA which originally proposed to the Gulf Council that the red snapper stock be divvied up amongst fishermen in the form of privatized fish tags. Now, I personally don’t see that as being “adamantly opposed” or “strongly skeptical,” but instead perhaps, what I’d liken to keenly interested, or even extremely intrigued! Cunningham himself is chairman of the New England Fishery Management Council. The council has been under mounting pressure from fishermen and legislators alike for the loss of access and diminished business, due to sector separation and catch share implementation.
While I can’t answer for every group’s bankbook or mission, I would point to IGFA’s annual reports starting in 2008, which show that this international record keeping organization has been on the receiving end of some Pew Charitable Trusts funding to the tune of upwards of $25,000 a year, which is nothing to sneeze at.
ASA who claims to represent the interests of tackle manufacturers in the United States, made a rather large mistake when their leadership chose to work with TRCP in support of a more restrictive version of the Magnuson Stevens Act of 2006, which contained non-scientifically mandated annual catch limits, and restrictive accountability measures like catch shares. Spotlighting that glaring faux pas, was ASA president and CEO Mike Nussman, who called the Magnuson reauthorization “a big win” for the sportfishing community in a 2007 press release.
Since TRCP’s Treasurer is responsible for tracking all that Pew money over the past decade, as well as being the captain of an industry ship foundering on a shallow reef in a heavy storm, you’d think that their treasurer, Mr. Nussman, could tell the difference between a “big win” for business, and yet another anti-capitalist corporate takeover by big green.
Pew’s lobbyist and public relations folks have been busily marketing the philanthropic green group as, friend of the fisherman, spending tens of thousands of ad dollars in national magazines, donating directly to industry “BIGS,” like TRCP and the IGFA. They also have secured a slot at a few mainstream online publications like the Huffington Post with claims of having “worked hard with fishermen and environmental organizations, to call on Congress to make funding for fisheries data collection and analysis, a budget priority.”
Pew has effectively manipulated both the mainstream and sporting media, while easily harvesting the low hanging fruit in the fisheries management field by calling for more science, and attacking destructive fishing practice issues, which nearly all anglers and environmentalists can agree on. The problem, of course, is that once you allow the Trojan’s big wooden horse (in our case a big wooden American Red Snapper with wheels) in through the gates of Troy - even for just the night - the kingdom’s collapse is inevitable.
Here’s to all independent, free-thinking, and incorruptible media outlets, wherever you are!
Jim Hutchinson, Jr. is Managing Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), a national, grassroots political action organization representing recreational fishermen and the recreational fishing industry on marine fisheries issues. RFA’s Mission is to safeguard the rights of saltwater anglers, protect marine, boat and tackle industry jobs, and ensure the long-term sustainability of our Nation’s saltwater fisheries. For more information, visit www.joinrfa.org.