Tony Friedrich VP/Policy Director

ASGA is coming up on the one-year anniversary of our inception. Looking back over the year, we won some, we lost some, but we were in every fight. You work hard on an issue and in the end, you know you did what you could to make things a little better for everyone.

The stuff that people don’t see is absolutely the hardest. It is difficult to remember everything that we accomplished in the last 365 days. The little things like forms, bank accounts, and a million other odds and ends amount to a mountain of work but aren’t visible from the outside looking in.

The other thing no one really sees is the small army of volunteers that believe in our cause. ASGA has a fantastic board of directors lead by our Chairman, Peter Jenkins. From Maine to North Carolina, we have a committed team that is more than willing to give of their time for a better future. Our treasurer, Sue B, is a force of nature. She is everything that we aren’t. Organized and efficient, she does all the stuff we hate and she does it at a level we could never attain without her professionalism. Taylor I., our Secretary, is a pro at press releases and messaging and also one heck of a fundraiser. He represents the next generation of conservation leaders.

It is true that you are only as strong as your weakest link. From my view, we are rock solid. I’d put our group against anyone in the business.

The out-front accomplishments are easy to list. John provided verbal and written testimony to the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife on the “The State of Fisheries”. I testified at Congressman Huffman’s Listening Tour for the possible re-authorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. We had board members up and down the coast at almost every striped bass hearing. We worked hard on the menhaden issue and just heard from the Secretary of Commerce that the non-compliant finding was upheld. We held over a dozen anglers workshops up and down the coast to figure out what mattered to fisherman. We attended council and commission meetings. We wrote policy positions on everything from bluefin tuna to forage fish. We spoke to congress about what healthy fisheries mean to all of us. We let everyone know that there was a new association out there and we were ready to fight for abundant fish populations. ASGA ended up accomplishing way more than any of us ever expected.

We didn’t know what we were getting into honestly. You never really know until you are in the thick of it. Yes, we have run non-profits before. Starting one from the ground up at this contentious time in fisheries is something you can’t prepare for. There were countless hours of late-night work with no end in sight. But, by the grace of God, we did it.

Let’s be honest for a second, some people really hate us. “Hate” might not even cover the depth of emotion some folks have for us. Our work isn’t the most pleasant thing one can do for a career. Fisheries conservation is a polarizing subject. Different stakeholders want different things. We don’t ride any fences. We take hard positions. You don’t do this to make friends. You certainly don’t do it to get rich. Either you love us or you hate us and we are ok with either.

So, why do we do this?

There were times in the early going where John and I wondered if we were completely nuts. We are fully aware that we are partially nuts but maybe we went over the edge? We were doing all the work an established association would accomplish (actually more than most) while doing all the work to start an association as well.

During a particularly rough stretch, I got a text message from our Chairman, Peter Jenkins. A young man named Tommy came into the Saltwater Edge, Peter’s shop, with his father. Tommy is completely addicted to fishing. Tommy will fish the surf. Tommy will fish from boats. According to Tommy’s father, Matt, the young man eats, breathes, and sleeps fishing and striped bass are his favorite.

Well, Tommy introduced himself to Peter as any polite young man would. He told “Jenks” how much he enjoyed reading our blogs and learning about the issues with striped bass. Tommy spoke to Jenks for some time and it was easy to tell that this kid was for real. He knew the issues and thanked Peter for fighting for him and the bass.

Peter had just finished work on our logo with Peter Nilsen, another well-known Rhode Island fisherman. The hats and shirts arrived days before at Saltwater Edge in Newport. Peter excused himself from the conversation, went into the back of his store, and emerged shortly after with one of our new hats. He gave it to Tommy. The kid lit up. Peter snapped a quick picture and texted it over to me.

My phone went off. My first reaction was to stomp it into dust. Seriously, I heard the text notification and wanted to scream. It had to be someone who needed something. Another task in an endless line of tasks was waiting on the other end of my thumb inputting my pin code. Super… just what I needed.

Instead, I got this image from Peter with a story detailing Tommy and his dad. It was hard not to get a little choked up. There was this kid, wearing our hat with a smile from ear to ear and telling Peter how he knew we were fighting for the fish he loved. There’s a ninja cutting onions somewhere over here.

He reminded me of my kid and John’s kid. They are all about the same age. Just a kid who looks out on the water with the same amazement and excitement that we do. Tommy doesn’t fully understand why he loves fishing. That realization comes with time. But he does know there is no other place he would rather be. There’s something very eternal about being a fisherman. Either you get it or you don’t. There’s nothing a fisherman loves more than seeing a kid who caught the bug. Tommy has the bug.

Matt and I spoke on the phone for a better part of an hour this fall. I wanted his permission to use the image and see if he would let me write about Tommy.

He had the same excitement in his voice that John and I have when talking about taking our own kids fishing. Matt told me story after story about Tommy fishing in the rain, cold, and wind. Tommy was putting in long hours and never getting bored or tired.

Matt wasn’t a hardcore fisherman at first. Once he saw Tommy had a terminal case of the fishing bug, he dove in head first as well as any good parent would.

I just met Matt, but I felt like I knew him forever. We had so much in common. Two middle-aged guys doing the best they could for their families. Doing everything possible to get pre-teen kids away from the computer. In the most basic sense, Matt is just a regular parent trying to create lasting memories during the fleeting youth of his child.

Fishing created a link between Matt and Tommy like it does between millions of parents and children. Memories are made. Traditions, new and old, passed down through the ages. There’s nothing in the world that can do the same thing.

As a child, you learn that there is something else out there greater than yourself. It instills confidence but also hands out a healthy dose of humility with regularity.

For a parent, it is time spent with your child. Time that teaches respect for nature as well as a bond that extends beyond lifetimes. I tell my son stories of fishing where many of the participants passed away decades ago. They live on in our verbal history.

So, I don’t know what you want for Christmas. I hope you get it though!

Me? If I could ask for one thing, it would be a fishing future for the millions of “Tommy’s” out there. I would ask to live to see the day where fish populations are abundant enough to get kids interested in the outdoors again. I’d ask to be an old guy on the beach watching young people chasing blitzing stripers and bluefish. I’d ask to watch my grandchildren embrace the outdoors like their great-great-grandfather did.

That’s why we do this. That’s why it doesn’t bug us when the haters say things about us. That’s why we exist.

We thank you for all of your support. We couldn’t have come this far without you. May all your wishes come true in 2020. With a lot of hard work, maybe our Christmas wish will come true as well.

4 Responses

  1. Great story Tony as it tells the story of “why” you do what you and many others do to try and sort out the fisheries and do your best to point people in the right direction with facts to back it up. This sort of thing brings out the best and the worst of people but it’s something you have to live with and our friends and children are worth doing that for. Thanks for what you do from an old fart.

  2. This is an inspirational read. I know Matt and Tommy and I can tell you the enthusiasm Tommy exudes when he’s fishing or talking about fishing is contagious.

    Thanks for the good read.

  3. WOW! Tommy got the fishing bug! Great article of a young man who loves fishing in the rain, cold, and wind — now that’s dedication! I hope your dream for the “millions of Tommy’s” become a reality!

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