Gasparilla Island is proof positive of the vibrance of the outdoor recreation industry, according to experts at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership summit held in Sarasota Oct. 17-19.
Its fishing guides, gear shops, restaurants, hotels, marinas, museums and tourist services all depend on outdoor recreation spending, which reached a record $646 billion nationwide in 2011.
Gasparilla Island also has been an example of the divisiveness that can pit members of the outdoor recreation sector against each other, which detracts from the overall profitability of an industry just now starting to emerge as a recognized financial power sector.
Tom Rosenbauer displays the latest in fly fishing gear.
The struggle between traditional fishing guides advocating eco-responsibility in dealing with tarpon and tourney organizers who still use fatality-inducing gear and motorized posses in Boca Grande Pass is a good example of the policy standoffs that continue to divide industry sectors, said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association.
Nussman called for more evolved and faster policy decisions from the federal government and statewide bodies such as the Florida Wildlife Commission.
"Traditionally, outdoor recreation is what we do with leftover time, money and land," Nussman said. "The (government) has a hard time saying the F word - Fun."
Outdoor recreation economic impact
Jobs: 6.1 million American jobs
Gross spending: $646 billion in 2011
Federal tax revenues: $39.9 billion
State/local tax revenues: $39.7 billion.
SOURCE: Outdoor Industry Association
Outdoor recreation6.1 million
Oil and gas2.1 million
Real estate2.0 million
SOURCE: Outdoor Industry Association
Nussman said outdoor recreational lobbying groups are at each other's throats in some instances such as the debate over outdoor use between kayakers versus anglers.
"It's very hard to do win-win business with recreational interests," he said.
I Ling Thompson, spokeswoman for the 4,000-member Outdoor Industry Association of Boulder, Colo., said settling outdoor recreation industry feuds equitably is crucial to furthering prosperity for all. But that's easier said than done.
"Conservation and recreation are not synonymous terms,' she said. "But we all have a lot more in common than people think. We have more to gain by working together."
There's plenty of money at stake, according to the OIA report. The outdoor recreation industry grew 5 percent annually between 2005 and 2011 even as other sector finances shriveled during the Great Recession.
Fishing remains the outdoor recreation industry linchpin, according to the OIA report. An estimated 46 million Americans 6-and-up fished an average of 18 times apiece last year.
"The piece that is great here is (anglers) do it frequently," she said.
The Great Recession actually enhanced the outdoor recreation industry, Thompson said. An estimated 111 million Americans took part in outdoor activities last year, she said.
"The recession encouraged families to go outside," she said.
The OIA emphasized its new motto at the summit: "Take it Outside for American Jobs and a Strong Economy."
Outdoor recreation is a larger sector of the U.S. economy than most people realize as the jobs of 6.1 million American lives directly depend on outdoor recreation. The outdoor industry also fuels traditional sectors such manufacturing, finance, retail trade, tourism and travel.
"The outdoor recreation economy can continue to be a growing generator of jobs and an economic powerhouse if we manage and invest in America's parks, waters and trails as a national outdoor recreation system designed to reap economic dividends for America," Thompson said in quoting the report's main conclusion. "The continued growth and success of this great American industry hinges on outdoor recreation opportunities for everyone."