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Remarks by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the National Marine Manufacturers Association 2019 American Boating Congress


Introduced by Ben Speciale, President, Yamaha’s U.S. Marine Business and chair of the NMMA Board of Directors.

Thank you, Ben, for that kind introduction, and for the invitation to participate in the 2019 American Boating Congress.

It’s great to be here.

Congratulations to Thom Dammrich for your nearly 20 successful years at the helm of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. Under your leadership, the Association has become a leading voice for the outdoor recreation industry, and it is a trusted partner for so many people in industry and government.

Last May, I had the honor of presenting the President’s prestigious Export Award to NMMA at a Commerce Department ceremony. Being here today gives me the opportunity to again personally thank, and congratulate, the Association for addressing the untapped global market opportunities for your members.

The export program you launched resulted in four consecutive years of increased international sales for U.S. marine manufacturers. American companies lead the global industry in design, performance, and production, and we want you to extend your dominance to every market in the world.

This administration is committed to expanding opportunities, both foreign and domestic, for your members and for their workers.

We are doing this by reducing your tax burden and eliminating unnecessary regulations.

We are insisting that our trading partners engage in free, fair, and reciprocal trade.

We have renegotiated trade agreements with Korea, Mexico, and Canada.

We are initiating trade talks with Japan and Europe.

And we are demanding that China stops flooding global markets with government-subsidized goods; and that it no longer steals your companies’ intellectual property through state-sponsored industrial espionage.

We want China to discontinue its policies of forced technology transfer; the reverse engineering of products; and the production and proliferation of counterfeits and dangerous fakes that are being sold to consumers on e-commerce platforms throughout the world.

We are using all the tools that are at our disposal to ensure our companies and workers are not disadvantaged in the global marketplace, and that our national security is protected.

I am proud to say that our policies are leading to a rebirth of American manufacturing, with the opening of new factories, and the creation of almost half a million new manufacturing jobs since the President took office.

We know there is more for all of us to do with workforce and skills development, innovation, infrastructure, and health care — because our global competitors are not sitting still.

The outdoor recreation industry plays an increasingly important role in the success of our economy and the growth of American jobs. Last year, the Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis found that the entire outdoor rec industry accounted for an impressive 2.2 percent of the whole nation’s GNP in 2016. To put that number in perspective, led by boating and fishing, the industry is bigger than such behemoths as mining, agriculture, and utilities.

We have to let everyone know how important your industry is. The growth of the outdoor rec industry outpaced the entire U.S. economy.

NOAA has recently completed its own studies of the blue economy. It found that 10 million American saltwater fishermen contributed $39 billion to GDP, drove $68 billion in sales for products and services, and supported 472,000 great American jobs in 2016. Of the $27 billion spent on durable sport-fishing goods, over half — $15.4 billion — was spent on boats and boating-related expenses. And I’m not breaking any news here when I say that there is nothing cheap about owning a boat . . . but that it is well worth the cost!

Those economic numbers describe how important your industry is to our nation, not only in jobs and output, but maybe more importantly in our psychological well-being: We know the curative effects of being on the water or standing beside it with rod in hand — especially if a fish is on the line!

We want many more Americans to enjoy our most abundant resource: our oceans, lakes, and waterways.

At Commerce, we are actively supporting a vibrant and innovative American boating and fishing industry.

On the domestic front, NOAA has signed a Memorandum of Agreement with four private-sector organizations, including our hosts today, to promote sustainable recreational fishing and boating activities. We are funding collaborative projects that engage recreational fishermen in the restoration of critical fish habitats such as oyster reefs in South Carolina. And I am pleased to report that 45 fish stocks have been successfully rebuilt since 2000. 

This means quotas for many popular game fish can be increased; and key recreational stocks in the Mid-Atlantic and the New England areas are no longer experiencing overfishing.

One of our top priorities is implementing our National Policy for Saltwater Recreational Fisheries, and its primary goal of promoting the broad ecological and economic benefits of recreational fishing.

I am also pleased to report on action by the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council. It has approved the amendment allowing states to manage private recreational red snapper fishing in federal waters. I look forward to signing the final rule, which takes effect in 2020, when it is formally submitted later this year.

Other important NOAA projects underway include advancing electronic reporting of fisheries data; and completing new economic surveys of recreational fishing trips from coastal states.

And, of course, NOAA also manages our national marine sanctuaries, which generate about $8 billion annually in local- and ocean-dependent economies. I know that one of the key concerns of the people in this room is access. Terms like “sanctuaries” and “protected areas” can make you nervous. However — the reality is — 98 percent of our national marine sanctuaries are open to recreational fishing.

I have made it one my top priorities to work closely with local communities and resource users, including boaters and anglers, in managing the health of these precious natural resources. For instance, in my home state, the Florida Keys National Sanctuary is working with fishermen to update its management of critical coral reef habitats. These are getting hit hard by bleaching, tropical storms, and disease.

NOAA’s efforts to reverse the decline of ecosystems will ultimately help habitats that are important in the lifecycles of many fish species. And they are essential if our recreational fishing and boating industries are to thrive.

I have recently appointed four new recreational fishing representatives to the Department’s Marine Fishery Advisory Committee. We are also in the process of reviewing a new round of nominees from governors for the Federal Fisheries Management Councils. All of the nominees for these councils are being given due consideration, including those from the recreational fishing industries.

A Bureau of Fisheries was one of the original agencies within the Commerce Department when it was first created in 1903.

One of my early predecessors in office said the main qualification for the job of Commerce Secretary was the ability to put the fish to bed every night and turn on lighthouse lamps along the coasts. But with the establishment of NOAA in 1970, the Department today has a much greater role in fostering the intelligent use of the country’s marine resources.

We are committed to creating an ever-stronger partnership with the Marine Manufacturers Association and the recreational fishing and boating community as we work to promote healthy marine environments, abundant fish stocks, and new market opportunities.

The goal of everyone in this community is to ensure that our grandchildren get to enjoy every bit of the great outdoors as much as we have. It requires that they log off Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat, and step onto a boat, and into the wild. You won’t find that on the Internet.

Thank you again for inviting me today. I look forward to hearing about the outcomes of the American Boating Congress, and on ways we can work together as we go forward. Thank you very much.