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COVID-19-hit ‘fishing capital of world’ visited by senior USA officials

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Pictured during the visit to Florida are (from left): Representative Neal Dunn, US Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, Tom Putnam (owner, Half Hitch Tackle) and Kellie Ralston (Southeast Fisheries Policy Director, ASA).

Florida, one of the US states hardest hit by COVID-19, has been visited by US Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.

The visit focused on the importance of the sportfishing industry in Florida and included a broad discussion about the impact of the pandemic on the outdoor industry and ways the federal government has worked to increase fishing and boating access.

Florida, often referred to as the ‘fishing capital of the world’, has more than four million anglers who generate $11.5 billion in economic impact and support more than 106,000 jobs. It contributes $56.7 million to state conservation efforts through licence fees and taxes on boat fuel and equipment.

Bernhardt, who was accompanied by House of Representatives member Neal Dunn (R-Florida), visited the Half Hitch tackle shop in Panama City and was given a tour of the newly-expanded, family-owned premises, including its large reel repair shop and custom rod facility.

Half Hitch’s owner, Tom Putnam, explained the challenges posed by the virus and his efforts to retain employees. He also reported encouraging improvements in sales over the last two months.

Half Hitch is a member of the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), the trade representative body. Also taking part in the visit was the association’s South East Fisheries Policy Director, Kellie Ralston.

“We appreciate Secretary Bernhardt and Congressman Dunn visiting Half Hitch to see first-hand the importance of the sportfishing industry in Florida and for relating how they are working to expand access on federal land for anglers and boaters across the nation,” said Ralston.

“While COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on the national economy, we are encouraged that the public has turned to recreational fishing as a safe, family-friendly way to reconnect with and experience the outdoors.”

Bernhardt, an avid angler, also talked of the recent passage of the Great American Outdoors Act by the US senate and the importance of supporting public lands and waters.

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