What is the North American Model of Conservation?

And how does it affect me as an angler?
By:  Melanie Sturm, American Sportfishing Association Policy Fellow
December 5, 2014

Young Aldo Leopold who would become a leader of American conservation.
Young Aldo Leopold who would become a leader of American conservation.

Picture this:  A big blue sky above a field of low-lying grasses; ponderosa pine and the Rocky Mountains in the distance; a stream chock full of trout ripe for the taking.

That was the scene Theodore Roosevelt and the era’s sportsmen looked upon as they set out to fish and hunt in the wilderness of the American West. Some things haven’t changed since then. As an angler, you probably get the same feeling of anticipation when your line tightens. However, what you may not know is how significant an impact the simple act of dropping a line in the water has on sustaining America’s fish and wildlife population.

Anglers, boaters and other sportsmen and women provide the most significant funding for fish and wildlife conservation and recreation in this country. In fact, your purchase of tackle and fishing licenses is crucial to ensuring clean water, plenty of fish and access to both. This model of fisheries conservation and management – known as the North American model – is the envy of countries around the globe.

Within this model, there are seven guiding principles. Though they weren’t written all at once, they are very much intertwined.

Wildlife Belongs to the People
It doesn’t belong to the government, corporations or individuals. This “public trust doctrine” states that certain natural resources are for public use. Even so, it is every citizen’s responsibility to be a steward of land, water and wildlife in order to enjoy this right for years to come. Some of the challenges we face today are attempts to upend this right and cut-off your access to public areas. That’s why it’s important that you vocalize your opinion and help KeepAmericaFishing protect your right to fish.

No Markets for Game
Some fish, along with amphibians and reptiles, are traded commercially, but all other markets for fished and hunted game are banned in the U.S. As a recreational angler, you probably find yourself most often on federal or state waters where the purchase of fishing equipment and a license are the only transactions standing between you and the fish.

Don’t Leave It Up to Chance
Laws govern how, when, where and which resources can be fished or hunted. Allocation of fish and wildlife is determined at the federal or state levels, so it’s important to know which fishing and hunting rules and regulations apply to you. To illustrate this point, think about striped bass. The federal Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council makes recommendations but your state’s natural resource agency is your source for specific guidelines.

Opportunity for All
The North American model is based on a user-pay/ user-benefit system. By law, our system guarantees that a portion of the money you spend on fishing equipment, along with money collected from small engine (boat) fuel taxes and fishing license fees, is made available to every state natural resource agency. Distributing funds this way means quality, fishable public lands and waters are open for everyone to enjoy.

“Wise Use Without Waste”
George Bird Grinnell’s quote, as stated here, implies that only certain purposes for killing wildlife should be tolerated in the eyes of the law to avoid negative consequences of excessive take. Those purposes are for food and fur, in self-defense, or property protection, each of which are done so at a sustainable rate. When menhaden populations declined, fishermen supported additional regulations on catch because, in the long run, it wasn’t worth risking the ecosystem-level impact of losing this important species.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?
Fish and wildlife are international resources. They know no man-made boundaries. While a road or dam may prevent wildlife or fish from crossing, there’s no physical barrier defining where Virginia ends and Maryland begins, for instance. By the same token, animals move freely between counties, states and even countries. It’s the same with aquatic species. The Great Lakes fisheries are one example. To achieve consistency in managing such fisheries, there are international laws and treaties, all to ensure animals that migrate aren’t endangered by slipping between the cracks.

Science Comes First and Foremost
Science-based management is one of the most critical lynch pins of the North American model. The best way to effectively manage wildlife and benefit multiple species is strong, smart science. KeepAmericaFishing believes that science-based decision-making is key to keeping you and your friends and family on the water.