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Latest conservative talk-circuit rumor: Obama wants to ban fishing

Latest conservative talk-circuit rumor: Obama wants to ban fishing
MinnPost photo illustration by Corey Anderson

WASHINGTON — During a conversation in her Washington office last week, Rep. Michele Bachmann asked me if I was working on any interesting stories. I told her that, oddly enough, I was doing a story on sport fishing, at which point she asked me if I’d heard that President Obama might be trying to ban sport fishing.

In fact I had heard that rumor, though about two thirds of the people I surveyed last week in both Democratic and Republican offices hadn’t. It’s a small rumor by Washington standards, but has spread around the conservative talk circuit, including the microphones and pens of Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge and Glenn Beck. It sparked a pair of questions (and an official denial) in a congressional hearing and is worrisome enough to the White House that they’ve moved aggressively to quash it in its infancy.

The worst-case scenario for the White House is that “fishing” becomes “ammunition” — the rumor that Obama would restrict or ban ammunition upon taking office. That one got so big it sparked record sales of firearms and ammunition so much that one store in northern Idaho somewhat-jokingly placed a cardboard cutout of Obama behind the gun sales counter with a sign on him that said “Salesman of the Year.”

“They just make up stuff, I mean, this is just silly talk, it’s crazy talk,” said Rep. Keith Ellison of both the fishing and ammunition rumors. “They make up these god-awful lies to distract people from the real issues facing them.”

Rep. Keith Ellison
REUTERS/Eric Miller
Rep. Keith Ellison

The head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Jane Lubchenco, was asked twice Wednesday about the rumor at a House Science Committee, replying that “we are not proposing any blanket ban on recreational fishing. I would strongly oppose that, and it is not in the works.”

Back to that conversation with Bachmann. I told her I’d heard the rumor too, but the White House had pretty flatly denied it when I asked them about it.

“Oh yeah, just because the White House says it, you can take THAT to the bank,” Bachmann said sarcastically. “I’d believe legislation more than I believe anything Obama says.”

Tensions between anglers, regulators
To see how we got here, let’s back up a few months.

Obama formed the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force last summer to develop standards for managing oceans, coastlines and the Great Lakes, saying the United States “needs to act within a unifying framework under a clear national policy, including a comprehensive, ecosystem-based framework for the long-term conservation and use of our resources.” [PDF]

Among the many listed challenges facing those aquatic ecosystems is “fishing impacts,” a point of almost no contention among environmentalists who worry that species like bluefin tuna are being overfished to the point of possible extinction.

“The task force has a wealth of opportunity to make our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes healthier — both environmentally and economically,” said Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Rep. Michele Bachmann
MinnPost/Raoul Benavides
Rep. Michele Bachmann

Recreational anglers are used to dealing with regulations — things like catch limits and size guidelines. However, any abbreviated fishing seasons are certain to reduce catches and, by extension, paychecks for commercial fishers. Thousands stake their livelihoods not just on having a healthy stock of walleye in Minnesota, flounder in New Jersey and red snapper in Florida, but on being able to get those fish out of the water and on to a dinner plate.

A group of 3,000 fishing enthusiasts held a rally on Capitol Hill last month to protest increasing regulations on where and what people can fish, saying that a movement to tighten regulations is being driven by ideology, not science.

“The days of managing fisheries by ideology have got to end,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat. “We need sound scientific findings that put the needs of fish and fishermen on the same playing field.”

Fighting back
That simmering concern was heated to a boil on Tuesday, when an article was published on ESPNOutdoors.com that suggested the task force was on track to severely restrict fishing despite the task force, led by Lubchenco, having shown “no overt dislike of recreational angling.”

Writer Robert Montgomery warned the ensuing federal policy “could prohibit U.S. citizens from fishing some of the nation’s oceans, coastal areas, Great Lakes, and even inland waters.”

The story spread from there, getting picked up by some of the biggest names in conservative media, including Limbaugh, Beck, Malkin and Drudge.

“How about a fishing ban?” Beck asked incredulously on his Fox News show last week. “A fishing ban that would put jobs at risk in the middle of an economic crisis, but beyond that, you and your son being told you can’t go there to fish! What the hell is happening to us? How are people not seeing this? [Obama is] going to do it through executive powers, without consulting the public.”

Pennsylvania Democrat Kathy Dahlkemper, whose district borders Lake Erie, was one of those who questioned Lubchenco at the House Science Committee. She followed the hearing with a statement:

“Regrettably, wildly inaccurate information is circulating online, fueling a rumor that the federal government plans to ban recreational fishing. That claim is entirely untrue. Neither the administration nor the Congress is seeking to ban recreational fishing, plain and simple.”

White House officials also moved quickly to quash the rumors.

“The draft reports issued by the Ocean Policy Task Force have involved extensive stakeholder input and public participation as they were being prepared, which has included the interests of conservationists and the recreational fishing community. These draft reports are not map-drawing exercises, they do not contain a zoning plan, and they do not establish any restrictions on recreational fishing or on public access, nor make any judgments about whether one ocean activity or use is better than another,” said Christine Glutz, spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

“The Ocean Policy Task Force sincerely appreciates the conservation activities of recreational users, who have a long history of actively participating in the stewardship of the ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources. The Task Force strongly believes in the ability of recreational fishermen and women to continue to enjoy these activities that are critical to the economic, social, and cultural fabric of our country. In fact, one of our main goals is to ensure healthier ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes, which will benefit all recreational activities and the communities and economies that rely on them.”

ESPNOutdoors Executive Editor Steve Bowman later published a clarification noting that the article was actually an opinionated column, admitting that as one of “several errors in the editing and presentation of this installment.”

The White House can only hope those denials work. The difficulty they face is that the rumor is spreading through specialized media sources that they don’t have much access to, said Steve Smith, a political science professor at Washington University in St Louis who lives in Minnesota.

“More and more people in the general public only listen to news outlets that reflect their point of view,” Smith said. “To combat that sort of thing in the specialized media is very difficult,” both because the hosts aren’t inclined to take the administration’s word for it and because the audience is more predisposed to believe a story that works against the White House.

“What you can hope to do is get to the standard media before they report it so [the administration] can get their opinion out there.” Even then, Smith said, folks like Bachmann aren’t likely to believe this administration, no matter what they say.

“I think the White House has to figure that 25 to 30 percent of the electorate is simply out of reach,” he said.

Comments (29)

  1. Submitted by James Hamilton on 03/15/2010 - 09:32 am.

    Perhaps Rep. Bachmann can quote the legislation she thinks supports this idiocy. No? I’m shocked.

  2. Submitted by John N. Finn on 03/15/2010 - 09:52 am.

    Just for entertainment, I’d like to have been at our local Mississippi River boat club tavern when the story broke. Happy hour is accompanied by Glen Beck on the TV, and the patrons get pretty riled up on a normal day. The management’s ongoing request to refrain from crude, vulgar and “diversity insensitive” language (children often present) might have fallen by the wayside.

  3. Submitted by Paul Scott on 03/15/2010 - 10:13 am.

    Thank you for reporting the rumor mongering and suspicions of the congresswoman without comment. It really does speak for itself. I hope the constituents of the sixth are proud of their representative.

  4. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 03/15/2010 - 10:43 am.

    Our own Joe Soucheray was commenting on this story last week. The vast right wing conspiracy in action.

  5. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/15/2010 - 10:43 am.

    (Showing my age) “They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.”

    No doubt Ms. Bachmann and some of her conservative friends will not be happy until that song becomes an accurate description or reality,…

    but then many of them expect the “rapture” to occur, the good people (such as themselves?) to be whisked away while their enemies (the think the people they don’t like or disagree with simply MUST be God’s enemies) will then suffer through a time of great natural and man-made tribulation after which the earth will be burned to a crisp twice over (so why not get whatever you can by raping nature now, while the getting’s good).

    Then Jesus will return to fix everything, turning earth back into Eden where they will then dwell as rulers (over each other? I suspect that lot would be completely ungovernable).

    By the way… I’ve heard a rumor from someone who claims to really know the truth that Ms. Bachamann was a liberal activist until she and her family spend a couple of years living in an idyllic little community known as Stepford, after which they moved to the MN Sixth District. Of course the truth about those two years MUST have been carefully expunged from all public records.

  6. Submitted by Stephan Flister on 03/15/2010 - 10:57 am.

    Paul Scott makes a good point, but simply by reporting on this (rather than a few thousand other topics) you do add to Cokie’s Law.

  7. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/15/2010 - 11:05 am.

    Political operatives playing “post office” is nothing new.

    As with much of the spin that comes out of the Washington spin machines, left and right, there is a shred of truth which is being stretched out of proportion…or is there?

    It’s not always prudent to take anything at face value…even repudiations.

    For instance, fans of abortion have been hammering at the Stupak amendment by saying, correctly, that federal law prohibits the direct use of tax dollars to fund abortions.

    One wonders, then, if abortion funding is already illegal, why is the far left wing of the Democrat legislature, and their supporters ready to throw ObamaCare under the bus if the Stupak amendment is included? It’s a moot point, a free bargaining chip; let’s get ‘er done, right?

    Not quite.

    The Senate version of ObamaCare includes a loophole that would allow for the indirect subsidy of abortion for women that buy a supplemental D & C policy with their ObamaCare.

    In other words, taxpayer funding for abortion is in there…just not so’s you’d notice. The leftists know this and that is why they will fight tooth and claw to protect this toe-hold.

    So when Jane Lubchenco, says that “we are not proposing any blanket ban on recreational fishing”, one should have a care…”blanket ban” is a blanket statement that leaves plenty of room for future re-interpretation.

  8. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 03/15/2010 - 11:28 am.

    Sport fishing?

    Catch and throw may be a great way to go for both ‘species’ in the Time cover.

  9. Submitted by Dave Thul on 03/15/2010 - 11:38 am.

    If you are going to write a story about rumors, then perhaps you should research the ones that you present before you attack another.

    President Obama was named ‘salesman of the year’ by The Outdoor Wire, one of the largest online sports industry publications, not some guy in a gun shop.
    http://www.theoutdoorwire.com/archives/2009-01-14

    And for Mr Hamilton, perhaps a review of the term ‘regulatory agency’ is in order. Just as the EPA declared carbon dioxide to be a pollutant without any legislation, the task force in question doesn’t need any legislation to do what it thinks is best.

  10. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 03/15/2010 - 11:41 am.

    If Republicans couldn’t use scare tactics, they wouldn’t have any tactics. Granted, both sides use them, but to think for a second they use them at the same rate is ridiculous.

  11. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/15/2010 - 11:48 am.

    BTW, given the rather low key part Rep. Bachmann plays in this “controversy” (“have you heard?”), one could confidently suggest that pasting her picture on Wendy’s cover to drag her role up front and center is an example of the version of ‘post office’ the leftist media plays.

  12. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 03/15/2010 - 11:56 am.

    Dave P (#2):

    I heard last week that, when Texas joined the union, it included a provision in whatever kind of agreement was drawn up that it could secede at any time it wished.

    If it weren’t for people like Ann Richards and Molly Ivins, I’d have welcomed that state’s secession any time.

  13. Submitted by Francis Ferrell on 03/15/2010 - 12:05 pm.

    At least now the rumor mill has perennially outdone itself. Ban Fishing? You might as well ban Motherhood, Apple Pie, Baseball, Chevrolets [maybe Toyotas], and Hot Dogs!!!

    I can’t stop laughing over this idiocy when the country seems fiscally to be imploding. Beyond the usual political rig-a-ma-roll this brief levity respite is hilariously welcome.

    NOTE: What MN lake did Michele Bachmann catch that hammer-handle Northern in? Is it a legal fish by the mandatory or required slot limit regs in effect? Someone should investigate this. Just a funny frivolous political tidbit for thought!

  14. Submitted by Judy Gibson on 03/15/2010 - 01:15 pm.

    That photo of Michelle Bachmann on the cover of Time was really scary! Fortunately, I noticed it was not real, but created by one of your people. We are going to have a tough time defeating Bachmann come November in the Sixth. Still, I am ever hopeful that reason will prevail with voters who should remember what a liability and embarrassment she is. We have three excellent, rational, reasoned representatives to the state legislature: Sen. Kathy Saltzman and Reps. Julie Bunn and Marsha Swails. So I know at least MN State 56th district voters can recognize quality representation. I hope the rest of the Sixth does too.

  15. Submitted by jim hughes on 03/15/2010 - 01:27 pm.

    All she needs is for ‘news’ sources like this to keep re-broadscasting her stuff, keep running her photo, and her comments, and treat it all like it’s serious, sincere and even possibly true – or at least ‘controversial’.

    The political process continues to transform into just another big-buck spectator sport, and reality – i.e. what people in government actually said, or proposed, or believe – fades further into the distance.

    I find I’m reading MinnPost less and less, because clicking on that bookmark has such a high probability of flinging more Bachman sand in my eyeballs.

  16. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/15/2010 - 02:08 pm.

    Am I the only one old enough to have gotten the visible joke of having Michelle Bachmann’s head photoshopped onto Wendy Anderson’s body in a mock-up of his famous “Good Life in Minnesota” Time magazine cover from 1973?!

    Well, actually, it wasn’t much of a joke. It turned my stomach a bit. Between Timmy and Mickey, the days of the “Good Life in Minnesota” are rapidly vanishing.

  17. Submitted by jim hughes on 03/15/2010 - 02:46 pm.

    Greg, you’re not the only one. I actually have a copy of that issue on a shelf somewhere.

  18. Submitted by Paul Harvey on 03/15/2010 - 03:29 pm.

    While it’s a bit beside the point, the assertion that the EPA declared carbon dioxide a pollutant without legislation is mistaken. The Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. E.P.A. (2007) ruled that the EPA had authority under the Clean Air Act to determine whether or not carbon dioxide was a pollutant.

  19. Submitted by James Hamilton on 03/15/2010 - 05:37 pm.

    Mr. Thul: I’m well aware of the term “regulatory agency”. Rep. Bachmann, however, said:

    “Oh yeah, just because the White House says it, you can take THAT to the bank,” Bachmann said sarcastically. “I’d believe legislation more than I believe anything Obama says.”

    Since there apparently isn’t any legislation or any writing created by either President Obama or any regulatory agency supporting Rep. Bachmann’s paranoia (demagoguery?), my statement stands.

  20. Submitted by Howard Miller on 03/15/2010 - 05:47 pm.

    instead of expressing doubt about the President’s integrity (which is more intact than Mrs. Bachmann’s) perhaps Rep. Bachmann could propose legislation that ensures fishing rights.

    Or is it easier just to make up stuff, without doing anything constructive?

  21. Submitted by Aaron Klemz on 03/15/2010 - 06:11 pm.

    Swift, as usual you have the facts exactly backwards on Stupak. It isn’t that “fans of abortion” (all, well, none of them) oppose the INCLUSION of the Stupak language. It’s that the Senate language on abortion, which Stupak doesn’t like, HAS to be the controlling language if the House adopts the Senate bill. Reconciliation can’t be used to fix that clause because the rules don’t permit it. You have the causality exactly backwards – it isn’t that “fans of abortion” will attempt to scupper the bill if it includes the Stupak language, it is that “fans of Stupak” will attempt to block the bill if it doesn’t have the Stupak language on abortion.

    And, once again, the “abortion rider” provision in the Senate bill would have to be paid for without a government subsidy. In fact, even if you pay for your own health policy out of your pocket, now you will have to write out two separate checks – one for abortion coverage, and one for everything else. Heck, even Republican National Committee employees got abortion coverage until a week ago, and they only had to write one check!

  22. Submitted by John Olson on 03/15/2010 - 07:19 pm.

    Why do I get the sense that the MinnPost reporter is just hanging around in Bachmann’s office looking for stuff?

    Like others, I am also clicking less and less into MinnPost.

  23. Submitted by John Roach on 03/15/2010 - 08:04 pm.

    Perhaps a little more deconstruction is in order here.

    The EspnOutdoors article that cued the GOP Wurlitzer based its fears on the shutdown of the spring black bear hunt in Ontario in 1996. The World Wildlife Fund and the International Fund for Animal Welfare presented unsolicited position papers to the Ontario government 15 years ago, and also presented unsolicited papers to the Interagency Ocean policy Task Force last year.

    Therefore, the US government will do the same thing to all sport fishing in 2010 that the Ontario government did to the spring bear hunt in 1996. See the logic?

    This is how the right wing echo chamber game is played. They keep a steady stream of “echoes” going to help ensure that the unreachable 25 to 30 percent remain entertained, paranoid and content with their information providers.

  24. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/15/2010 - 08:10 pm.

    Klemz, you are correct regarding the role of reconciliation. Thanks for the clarification, but it doesn’t effect my premise at all.

    To wit:

    Fans of abortion are claiming the Stupak amendment is unnecessary because there is already a federal law in place that covers Stupak’s concerns. While one can carefully parse the argument with the truth of the federal statute, the fact is that the Senate bill allows for backdoor subsidy of abortion.

    Stupak and his fans are working to shut that door…

    Thus fans of abortion use a shred of truth to come to a non sequitur conclusion; thus sport fishing enthusiasts come to a conclusion that in future (given the propensity for leftists to use the frog in hot water method to acclimate their victims) may in fact have merit, but do not bear out today.

  25. Submitted by William Pappas on 03/15/2010 - 09:08 pm.

    I’m assuming the 20-30% that are unreachable would be the Tea Party activists who are unable to allow reality to intrude on their ideological fantasies. It’s been so long since I’ve heard anything remotely intelligent or fact based come from a conservative I’m assunming they are all idiots until I observe differently.

  26. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/16/2010 - 08:37 am.

    I’m sure they are just as impressed and love you too, William.

  27. Submitted by dave motes on 03/16/2010 - 09:28 am.

    A good piece, but you’re far too lenient on Montgomery and ESPN.com, in my view. He led with an irrelevancy, told a series of lies, spiced them with a bunch of devious distortions, provided a photograph that was way off point, and bent his sources. The story was presented as a news piece, editor’s excuses notwithstanding, and it was as a news piece that it has circulated. Montgomery should be fired, but the damage is done. Journalists with integrity should be appalled, but there is very little reaction.
    I can excuse some scrambling among journalists who are writing and competing in the online/print shift, but it’s clear to me Montgomery intentionally published a hit job fed to him by astroturfers, and ESPN.com abetted it out of sympathy, greed, or carelessness. These people are determined to taint Obama and they are willing to go to any length to do it. (I have no particular brief for Obama or for the Task Force, though I support the work of both; I’m interested in ethical journalism.)

    Commercial fishermen have a long history of happily, unapologetically wiping out resources. They embrace shortsighted industry goals, greed, and a no-compromise lobbying strategy against fisheries regulation. In most local conflicts over resources, sport anglers and the industries that rely on sport stocks are in open conflict with commercials, and with good reason–but Montgomery, without any irony, reports that they are allies.

    I’m out of characters–see post 2

  28. Submitted by dave motes on 03/16/2010 - 09:28 am.

    part 2

    He also reports that various environmental organizations are pulling the strings even though there is ample testimony and evidence that advocacy organizations always offer input. Industry advocates are twenty times more numerous and ten times richer and have had unfettered access to regulatory and legislative processes in the past—not mentioned.

    Montgomery has accepted the ugly bargain of the far right, and ESPN.com published it under their brand. They joined forces with the enemy simply to damage Obama. ESPN.com-reading outdoorsmen should be repelled by the greedy wastefulness of commercials. They probably would be if they got clean reporting. The commercials fear regulation, as they should; they’ve been directly responsible, beyond any doubt, for the destruction of fish stocks. I live in Minnesota now, but I caught no striped bass in my native Virginia for many years because commercials had crushed the stock (and the forage stock) in the Chesapeake due to unfettered greed and brazen bribery of regulatory agencies state and local. The moratorium was not popular but it worked beautifully and now I enjoy fantastic fishing every summer. Ditto redfish, menhaden, flounder, cod, etc.

    Now, faced with regulation, the comms pretend to share the interests of recreational anglers, and some leaders in the rec community are willing to accept that bargain. Commercials then claim a “ban” is coming–forgetting to mention that it will affect recs less than the comms, and that regulation is necessary to save the stock from collapse. Credulous or corrupt journalists report it. A few sane ones are washed away in a tide of ignorant happy fear. All for political gain. All for money.

    (One who saw it early and blew the whistle: Jeffrey Weeks in North Carolina, who has been critical of regulation in the past and is no greenie: http://www.examiner.com/x-37128-Charlotte-Fishing-Examiner~y2010m3d9-ESPN-claims-Obama-is-about-to-ban-fishing)

    The lie is out. The editor apologized but did not retract the story. It has already burned through sportsmen’s forums, where it gains strength even as it moves farther from the truth. In chatboards and forums across the country it is considered truth. Prfect anti-journalism.

    The lie recruits new Obama-haters on false premises; the originator of the rumor suffers no consequences, keeps his forum, and will probably get a bunch of trophies from conservative organizations for courageous journalism in the face of liberal media bias. People make money and gain political power and citizens are duped into voting against their own interests and supporting policies that are stupid and wasteful.

    And the fear is false. That’s the saddest thing. It’s just like the gun freakout, only second-string. Obama did nothing to restrict guns or hunting; he’s proven so far to be a good friend to outdoorsmen by favoring moderate conservation. Meanwhile the Obama gun freakout sold a lot of ammo, het up a lot of talk shows, and probably got three cops killed in Pittsburgh. It will be no different in fisheries. The Task Force is likely to produce a grownup solution that benefits anglers (and commercials) in the long run, and they aren’t even finished yet.

    Watch. The report will be a dreary read of science and careful language. When it comes out will people bother to read and understand? Will people be able to read intelligent summaries, thoughtful evaluations–journalist’s jobs all–or will there be more fearmongering, distorting, and lying? I guess we’ll see.

    Dave Motes

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