(Always Looking for More Good Partners)
One of a child’s most lasting memories is often of the first fish they caught. Many programs help parents and children catch their first fish at various fun fishing events. However, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Fishing Camp program goes far beyond by helping young people learn a healthy lifetime sport and the importance of conservation stewardship.
The fishing and basic boating skills camp is based on the successful pilot program developed by FWC at Joe Budd Youth Conservation Center, near Tallahassee. Beginning in June 2000, about 100 youngsters have attended the camp each summer, and research surveys have shown the vast majority continues to enjoy recreational angling and to feel more connected to nature.
In 2011, Florida’s Governor recognized Rae Waddell and Steve Marshall, who created this program, for their efforts to work with local partners to provide healthy, conservation-minded opportunities for Florida’s youth. Fishing license dollars, and more specifically voluntary donations to youth fishing and hunting programs that many anglers make when they buy their licenses (MyFWC.com/License) help fund these camps.
The FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management (DFFM) has established partnerships with the Cities of Clewiston and Oldsmar, Marion County Parks and Recreation, Miami-Dade Parks, and the not-for-profit Florida Fishing Academy, to bring the Fishing Camp program to local communities. Efforts to expand these programs and get more children involved in active nature-based recreation not only provide an enjoyable introduction to this classic American tradition, but also benefit their physical and mental health and endow a sense of stewardship for our natural resources.
“This program was so well received that several business in the area have expressed an interest in becoming involved and expanding the camp,” said Lance Ramer, Director of Recreation for the City of Clewiston. Ramer went on to say “This is a tremendous program that we are excited to be a part of, excited to see the growth and interest in fishing in our young people and the opportunity to assist FWC with the expansion of the program. These camps in Clewiston have drawn participants from as far as an hour away, and they are anxious to sign-up again!”
Robert Carmona, a recreation specialist with Miami-Dade County Parks, said: “Our inaugural fishing camp was a success not only because we operated at capacity, but also because we were able to introduce children to angling and instill in them a respect for the resources.” As part of Miami-Dade’s “fit to play” initiative, summer camp participants were previously taught sports such as tennis and bowling, by adding fishing camp to their summer offering they can now introduce children to a new lifetime sport that is affordable and gets them active in nature.
“Part of Miami-Dade Park’s mission is to create outstanding natural, recreational opportunities for this and future generations. By teaching about fish, water, and healthy environments, we instilled a sense of responsibility for the environment that we hope will translate into advocacy for the parks department and green spaces in general,” said Carmona.
Captain Rich Brochu, Executive Director and Founder of the Florida Fishing Academy said “We had 72 students attend our first summer of camps, without FWC's leadership, guidance, training and professionalism, our students would not have had such an educational and fun experience.” FWC staff trained academy trainers and stopped by the camp to demonstrate electrofishing and fish dissection, and to provide boater safety information.
FWC continually seeks partner groups who are committed to working with youth to provide quality programs and who will help document the long-term success of these educational efforts. In return, FWC provides a “Fish Camp Implementation Template” and assists with purchasing camp essentials that are expected to last several years.
If you have staff or volunteers and facilities to support a Fishing Camp in your local community and are interested, please contact: Steve Marshall, Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, phone (561)292-6050, Email: Steve.Marshall@MyFWC.com.