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By Catharine Richert March 17, 2010

Rush Limbaugh says because of Obama, people can't go fishing anymore

Since President Barack Obama took office, he's been accused of overturning a number of all-American traditions, including Christmas trees at the White House and gun rights.

Now, Obama apparently wants to ban a popular American pastime: fishing.

On his March 9, 2010, talk show, Rush Limbaugh claimed that, "fishing is on the verge becoming a privilege controlled by Barack Obama." He went on to say that he's only had a few experiences with the sport, but that, "I know a lot of people, former professional athletes, who go into shock after hearing they can't go fishing anymore because of Obama."

Like so many claims we check at PolitiFact, this one was messy. It started, of all places, with a story from, was picked up by conservative bloggers, and then made its way to Limbaugh's radio show and other outlets including Glenn Beck's evening program on Fox News. In the process, the story changed.

So, we'll do our best to sort through the rhetorical rubble.

To support his claim, Limbaugh points to an article that appeared on on March 9, 2010. The article, written by Robert Montgomery, reported that, "The Obama administration will accept no more public input for a federal strategy that could prohibit U.S. citizens from fishing the nation's oceans, coastal areas, Great Lakes, and even inland waters." This quote was pulled from the Web site of left-wing media watchdog Media Matters. Montgomery later changed his column, so the original language is no longer on the ESPNOutdoors site. But more about that later.

Montgomery was writing about Obama's Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, a 24-member group headed by the chair of Obama's Council on Environmental Quality. In June 2009, Obama created the task force to develop a national policy to protect, maintain and restore oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes. He asked the group recommend a framework for improved stewardship and effective coastal and marine spatial planning; the group released a draft of its recommendations in December 2009. Among other things, it recommends creating nine regional planning areas to carry out the framework.

In plain English, the Obama administration is drafting new plans for waterway conservation. "Spatial planning" is jargon for making sure that waterways are being used in the most economically and environmentally friendly way, explained Beth Lowell, federal policy director for ocean conservation group Oceana. If a body of water has no biological value, perhaps it's best used for a wind farm, she gave as an example. Or if there's a vulnerable coral reef in the area, the framework will help sort out what kinds of fishing can be done on the surface so as not to disturb the ecosystem below.

So, the framework may mean changes in fishing practices in some areas, depending on the location, the local economy and specific ecological problems. Indeed, the draft framework states that plans "are expected to vary from region to region according to the specific needs, capacity, and issues particular to each region."

Almost instantaneously, conservative bloggers picked up on Montgomery's story.

Michelle Malkin wrote, "Sacrificing jobs for the green agenda. Conducting Kabuki theater on public input. Business as usual for the Obama White House."

And from Gateway Pundit: "Obama’s latest assault on your rights– He wants to ban sport fishing. Barack Obama has a message for America’s 60,000,000 anglers – We don't need you."

The meme found its way to the desks of Limbaugh and of Beck, who implied on his March 10, 2010, show that Obama was banning fishing by executive order.

"Obama will no longer listen to the public as he tries to prohibit U.S. citizens from fishing on some of the nation's oceans, coastal areas and Great Lakes and even some inland waters," he said. "No more fishing. . . . Some environmentalists want to save the fish. Forget about the frickin' fish! People are losing their rights."

(We should point out that Obama has not banned fishing through executive order, so Beck is wrong on that point.)

The firestorm prompted ESPNOutdoors executive editor Steve Bowman to issue a statement on the story.

He wrote that the news organization should have made it clear that the story was an opinion column in a series of stories on the implications of Obama's new task force. "While our series overall has examined several sides of the topic, this particular column was not properly balanced and failed to represent contrary points of view," Bowman wrote. "We have reached out to people on every side of the issue and reported their points of view -- if they chose to respond -- throughout the series, but failed to do so in this specific column."

Media Matters also noted that the first paragraph of Montgomery's story now reads that the administration's plan "could prohibit U.S. citizens from fishing some of the nation's oceans, coastal areas, Great Lakes, and even inland waters." (The emphasis is ours to show the difference between Montgomery's first and second iteration of the column.)

The column still fails to mention that the administration has made no final decisions on the recommendations. And while the framework could change some fishing practices as Lowell points out, the draft proposals do not say anything about banning recreational fishing as the column implies.

Here's what Christine Glunz, spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, had to say about the issue: "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.''

And Eric Schwaab, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's assistant administrator for fisheries, simply stated in a March 10, 2010, statement that "the Ocean Policy Task Force has not recommended a ban on recreational fishing."

Like many things we check at PolitiFact, this claim is like sausage: It went in the meat processor that is the Internet as one thing and came out quite different. An opinion piece that argued Obama's effort could ban some fishing was chopped up, reprocessed and put back together as a claim that Obama wants to ban all fishing. In fact, the draft framework says nothing about banning fishing. Limbaugh has taken an early discussion about the use of waterways and twisted it to make it sound like Obama is outlawing a popular pastime. While the panel's recommendation could change fishing practices in some areas, the framework is still in draft form; the administration has not made any final decisions on what the framework will look like. But Limbaugh is grossly distorting the truth. Pants on Fire! 

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Our Sources

The Rush Limbaugh Show, Stack of Stuff Quick Hits Page, March 9, 2010, Chain e-mail claims the Obamas plan to change a holiday tradition, by Catharine Richert, Oct. 14, 2009, List your guns on your 1040? No -- this bill never passed, by Ian Jannetta, Nov. 1, 2009, Culled Out, by Robert Montgomery, March 9, 2010

Media Matters, Right-wing media eagerly spread absurd claim that Obama plans to "ban sport fishing",March 10, 2010

The White House, The Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, accessed March 15, 2010

The White House, Interim Report of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, Sept. 10, 2009

The White House, Interim Framework for Effective Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning, Dec. 9, 2010

Greenwire via The New York Times, Obama Admin Jumps to Squelch Rumors of U.S. Fishing Ban, by Allison Winter, March 11, 2010

Michelle Malkin, Obama's War on Fishing?!?!?!, March 9, 2010

Media Matters, Beck pushes dubious fishing ban claim: "Forget about the frickin' fish. People are losing their rights," accessed March 16, 2010

Gateway Pundit, Obama’s Latest Assault on Freedom– New Regulations Will Ban Sport Fishing, by Jim Hoft, March 9, 2010, From the Editor, by Steven Bowman, March 10, 2011

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Statement from Eric Schwaab, NOAA's Assistant Administrator for NOAA's Fisheries Service, March 10, 2010

E-mail Interview, Christine Glunz, spokesperson, White House Council on Environmental Quality, March 16, 2010

Interview, Beth Lowell, federal policy director, Oceana, March 15, 2010

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Rush Limbaugh says because of Obama, people can't go fishing anymore

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