I was intrigued recently by Bassmaster’s expanded coverage of environmental issues on its website. Had I been missing this all along? Corporate headquarters clued me in: It was the work, largely, of B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland, showcasing his passion for engagement among members.
When I reached Gilliland by phone, he was on location in Washington D.C., prepping for a government affairs meeting with the American Sportfishing Association. His role there was the same as it has been in dozens of meetings before: To better represent sport fishermen – the anglers – as an organization. As Gilliland pointed out, numerous industry consortiums have representatives in Washington and elsewhere (boat manufacturers being a good example), but perhaps no group represents the anglers themselves nearly as well as B.A.S.S.
With a goal of expanded representation in the immediate future, B.A.S.S. couldn’t have picked a better guy. Gilliland, an avid angler himself, was a former research biologist and later became the assistant chief of fisheries for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Such gives him an intimate understanding of both science and policy in terms of fish management.
Not surprisingly, fish and game agencies all across the country network amongst their cohorts, and Gilliland keeps many on his call list. When a hot topic comes up, it’s likely he can immediately get the facts on an issue. Facts that, in today’s age, often become cloudy.
“There’s so much misinformation on social media,” Gilliland confirmed, “that a lot is just flat wrong. My duty is to find the facts and find out what’s the real issue. We (B.A.S.S.) determine what we can do to work through an issue and ensure our voice is heard.”
A topic in Wisconsin came up as an example. There, B.A.S.S. has used various forms of digital media to put together a call to action, encouraging area anglers to attend meetings being held across the state regarding fisheries management changes.
Here, Gilliland had previously worked with the state’s B.A.S.S. Nation conservation director, who then mobilized the membership base. Later, proposed changes came as a joint venture between B.A.S.S. members and the state DNR.
“We (must) have a seat at the table so when decisions are made, as anglers, we have a chance to get what we want,” Gilliland interjected. “It’s also just as important to stay plugged in at the state legislature level; the lawmakers.”
Gilliland explained how his lofty title often gets him an ear with an audience, but it’s grassroots voters who get things moving. “I can show up and testify, and tell them (politicians and policy-makers) what the position of B.A.S.S. is, but what really makes a difference is when politicians hear from their constituents and the local people.”
Gilliland again emphasized that his goal at B.A.S.S. is to begin with broadcasting proper information. “B.A.S.S. is a media company, down deep” he said, “ and the goal is to utilize those media platforms to educate and motivate – to get the facts out there – and stick up for anglers … and support science-based management, because you can’t manage long-term strictly on emotion.”
Gilliland admits that often his greatest engagement comes from members of B.A.S.S. Nation. “They are the most avid, engaged and involved.” There, the pipeline is already in place to get representation through B.A.S.S. headquarters, representing it’s half-million-plus member base.
Many issues have recently seen results under Gilliland’s leadership. In Louisiana, where the public/private ownership of waterways has been a hot topic, numerous pieces of legislation have been introduced supporting the rights of anglers. Much of the work to this point has been done on an organized, grassroots level led by local anglers and circulated by B.A.S.S.
Such was an example of one of Gilliland’s goals when he took his position at B.A.S.S. Today, he points to five core issues he’s always on the lookout for when representing America’s bass anglers:
1. Scientific fisheries management
2. Habitat threats or enhancements
3. Invasive species threats or management
4. Access issues for anglers
5. Tournament practices and ethics
I must admit, I never knew how much was going on behind the scenes at B.A.S.S. to ensure anglers get a say in the management of our nation’s waters. Sure, like many veteran B.A.S.S. members, I remember the good ol’ days; George Bush fishing with Ray Scott and megaphones supporting clean water. It seems we can thank Gilliland for much of the resurgence, or at least letting the cat out of the bag.
Join me in going to his new Facebook group, B.A.S.S. Conservation, where we can all review and chime in on important topics around the country.
Because to have a voice, we must have numbers.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)