Anglers need to demand action on climate change, says new report

The American Fly Fishing Trade Association is calling on anglers to become activists
fly fishing molala river
Photo: BLM / cc2.0.

The American Fly Fishing Trade Association is challenging anglers with an ultimatum: get involved in climate politics now in order to save fishing for generations to come. In a new report titled, “For Tomorrow’s Fish,” AFFTA makes plain-language ties between the quality of recreational fishing and a changing climate that’s upping the intensity of storms, raising ocean temperatures and lowering oxygen levels in waters from coast to coast.

“Our call for action challenges anglers to fiercely support members of the fishing industry and advocacy networks who are demanding progress toward healthy and abundant marine fisheries in the face of climate change,” wrote Lucas Bisset, AFFTA’s executive director, and Whitney Tilt, the executive director of AFFTA’s Fisheries Fund, in the report’s introduction. “Just as we once rallied to protect our fishing grounds from pollution, overfishing and habitat destruction, we must now push for a united front of anglers, industry representatives and other committed advocates.”

The 24-page report is written with a clear sense of urgency, and offers several avenues for angler involvement in the climate crisis. And make no mistake about it, the report declares, the crisis is real, and it’s having compounding and noticeable effects on fishing all across the country.

“From changing habitats to shifting fish populations and behavior, we can’t ignore the realities we’re seeing out on the water,” Bisset said. “As long-time stewards of our country’s waterways who are seeing these impacts firsthand, anglers have the power to make a real difference in the fight for climate-resilient fisheries – for our sport, way of life, and industry.”

The notion, of course, is that anglers are on the front lines of this battle. The reality? Many don’t understand the nuances of climate change and don’t realize they’re in a fight. And, as the report notes, it’s a fight for the future of fishing, not just one fishery or a single troubled locale.

“Anglers in the Rocky Mountains now experience seasonal fishing closures for their iconic trout due to low water flows and dangerously high river temperatures. Fisheries in Florida and elsewhere in the southern U.S. continue to see catastrophic declines in fish abundance and vital habitat loss due to rising water temperatures and sea level rise,” the report reads.

“Beloved species along the Atlantic coastline are now either out of range or below sustainable abundance for anglers who have historically depended on their presence for recreational, commercial and cultural values,” it continues. “In the Pacific, extreme weather-related events like marine heat waves serve as straws that could break the proverbial camel’s back of populations already pushed to the brink.”

AFFTA calls on brands to engage

Threats from climate change to fisheries of all stripes are existential, Bissett said, and AFFTA’s goal is to find ways to give anglers more “entry points” into the discussion. And, the best avenue, he said, is through the brands they know and love.

The report, released today (May 14), was funded through a grant from the Packard Foundation and AFFTA’s Fisheries Fund, which is supported by dozens of brands in the fly fishing industry.

“We’re seeing our industry partners really starting to engage,” Bissett said. “You really can’t be in the fly fishing industry and ignore the habitat damage and the damage to our fisheries from climate change while trying to grow your business.”

More importantly, he said, brands that foster loyalty and excellent service can also give their customers a place to get involved in the climate crisis conversation.

“It’s no longer a discussion over whether or not it’s real,” Bissett said of climate change and its effects on fishing. “It’s now a discussion about whether or not we’re going to continue to be able to do what we love. How do we adapt? How do we make this into a fight for mitigation?”

And, as executive director of the trade association for the industry, Bissett believes the answer lies with AFFTA’s member brands and their willingness to educate customers on the issues and give them ways to become active. More businesses, he said, need to look up from their spreadsheets and their bottom lines and realize that their success is intrinsically tied to the health of our fisheries. And our fisheries, he said, are taking body blow after body blow from climate change.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” he said. “And it’s not just the right thing to do for the health of our fisheries and the health of our habitat. It’s the right thing for our industry and for our businesses.”

Build political will among anglers

As the report notes, anglers are no strangers to important conservation battles. Over generations, anglers have come to the rescue of important fisheries all over the country. From past successful efforts to stop overfishing various marine stocks to the restoration of wild and native trout habitat across America, anglers have proven that they can mobilize. Bissett and AFFTA hope to tap into that wellspring of energy and build some political will among fishing circles.

“We need anglers, regardless of their politics, to make this issue important to lawmakers,” Bissett said. “Or, we need to start sending lawmakers to Washington who want to work on the issue, and who understand how it is affecting our fish and our fishing.”

From warming water temperatures, both in fresh and saltwater, to sea level rise and the increase in the intensity of weather events, climate change is taking an appreciable bite out of America’s fish and it’s impacting angling opportunity.

The key to meeting the challenges of a changing climate, while also working to address the issue in political circles, AFFTA says, is the ability to adapt.

“Anglers take pride in being salt-of-the-earth, tough-as-nails individuals, with cuts on our fingers and fish slime on our hands,” the report reads. “But it is not the toughest or most intelligent of an animal species that will survive; it is the most adaptable. Thus, now is the time to not only accept our own personal responsibility to adapt but also accept our role as an angling community to help the fisheries we love, and depend on, adapt and persevere through changing environments.”

This, of course, starts with political activism. And, Bissett reiterated, the brands that consumers turn to for gear, soft goods, equipment and travel are in the unique position to deliver important information to their customers and clients.

“We need more brands to step up and highlight the issues surrounding climate change to their customers,” Bissett said. After all, he said, climate change is the most important conservation battle of our time. “If they’re not educating their customers and encouraging them to get involved, they need to be. Otherwise, I think they’ll be left behind.”

Exhaustive report serves as information clearing house

The 24-page report isn’t necessarily bulging with new information. Rather, it brings together in one document a host of disparate information and works to connect the dots. The idea, Bissett said, is to tell a compelling story to anglers and the brands they love — to inspire them to become active on the issue of climate change.

“We need anglers to understand what terms like resiliency mean,” Bissett said. “We’re literally in a fight for our fishing, and if we, as anglers, can’t communicate the challenges facing our fishing from climate change, then our fishing is in real trouble.”

The report touches on a host of issues related to the ongoing climate crisis, and tries to inspire anglers to get involved. Topics the report includes:

  • The unique connection among anglers, the specific habitats they fish and the threats from climate to change to their favorite fisheries
  • An acknowledgement that anglers have the experience and the track record to engage politically, and the need to protect existing laws, like the Clean Water Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act
  • Inclusions from anglers who share anecdotal data about how their local fisheries have changed, and how they’re making that data stand up with the help of science. This includes everything from warming waters to lower levels of dissolved oxygen, recorded rises is sea level and verified escalation in storm intensity
  • The need to make our fisheries more resilient to climate change and to protect those fisheries that are currently healthy for the next generation of anglers
  • A call to action from anglers who might think that practicing catch-and-release is their contribution to conservation; or that by buying a fishing license, they’ve done their conservation duty. It’s more than that, the report reads, and anglers need to understand that this isn’t just a fight for a few fish, but a fight for the future of fishing.
  • Examples of specific anglers who are engaged in the climate crisis so other anglers can see how they can get involved
  • A simple ask for anglers to get more involved politically. Creating and protecting resilient fisheries will take funding and significant policy changes — the reports asks anglers to invest time into learning more about state fish and game agencies to gauge the work their doing on climate, and to spend time speaking with elected officials about the importance of funding fisheries management in the face of the climate crisis

“Practicing catch and release will not be enough. Liking social media campaigns calling for conservation will not be enough. Thinking that by paying your fishing license fees you are absolved from responsibility is not an option,” the report reads. “The climate has changed and will continue to change. It is already impacting our fisheries, and if we as anglers do not face this climate reality, we risk our identities as anglers disappearing into the rearview mirror.”

The full report is available to read at


This is not a fly fishing issue. We need to unite with the MUCH larger conventional fishing community to have any impact.

LOL - not the climate crisis activist. Don't let a few whose demand of ultimate power convince you there is actually a man-made climate crisis. I would have hoped the fishing community was smarter than that.

Do you really want to have the biggest impact on saving the fish? Outlaw all fishing. Overfishing, including the kills from catch & release, has a much larger impact on the fish than a pie in the sky man made climate crisis claim.

Climate Crisis is a fraud! It was disproved years ago when they falsified the data! Politicians are crooks.

Climate will change on its own. The eons have proved it. You can clean the waters. Let's do it. You can clean the air. Let's do it. You can pay a feel good Carbon Tax or Offset. Be my guest. You can kill off humanity one way or another. We are on our way to threatening it and have the capability to do it. But, climate will change. We have our moment in Time. Being good stewards of our natural resources is a responsibility. Protecting habitat is a hoped for outcome, not just for fish. But, sea levels will rise and fall and the rivers will warm and cool. Continents will continue to shift. Activist achievements of mankind, noble in spirit (except for the knuckleheads who glue themselves to runways and smear art...), won't change the reality that this cycle has been repeated since the planet was formed.

Pretty much right on the mark. In fact Climate changes 4 times each year. Climat Change is far more about the money than it is people actually accomplishing change.

It would be great if we even knew how to deal with climate change. Is it man made? Are we creating more climate change with our windmills that are drastically altering the natural flow of the wind, anytime you take power from a source it decreases. Are solar panels creating more heat? Then there is alcohol that takes more energy to make than we get out of it. We need to take an overall look at what we are doing before we jump into all this alternate energy mode. Then there's the 45,000 airplanes that fly over the US each day, don't tell me not to drive to the store.