Casting for Conservation
Hurricane Katrina hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast a devastating blown in late August 2005 and there was little to distract from the digging out and trying to move forward. This applied to Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) Mississippi that had lost major fund-raising opportunities in the fall but did not consider ourselves OUT! As the cleanup progressed, CCA saw an opportunity to hold a member tournament and kids fishing rodeo concurrently on what had been the site of The White Cap Restaurant at Gulfport Harbor. With the cooperation of numerous agencies - the City of Gulfport Leisure and Recreation Department, including Harbormaster E. J. Ziegler, Harrison County, Merchants Food Service, Coast CocaCola, Killer Bee Bait, volunteers from MDMR and GCRL staff and students, and others, CCA coordinated what has become the inaugural Casting for Conservation event for some 75 kids on a breezy and sunny Saturday in June 2007. With no piers available, the kids fished from the seawall that was left and received instruction from CCA members on the basics of fishing.
A meeting later that year brought to light the availability of federal funds for restoration following Hurricane Katrina, some of which was targeted to getting kids back into fishing. Buck Buchanan of Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR), Jim Franks of GCRL and the Mississippi Wildlife Federation, and F. J. Eicke of CCA met to discuss the initial process that would lead to underwriting the next three years of Casting for Conservation. The Katrina recovery funds made available were allocated strictly to expenses that benefited the kids, allowing CCA to provide fishing gear to every child participating. When funds ran short, CCA looked to the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Youth Participation Initiative Program that covered 2011 events before Tidelands Funds were made available through MDMR.
The generosity of sponsors who have been involved over the subsequent years began with the initial event and many remain involved to this day. Without these sponsors – cities, counties, food, beverage, bait suppliers, marine stores, among others – and our volunteers - MDMR, GCRL, MWF, city and county workers, and CCA members – Casting for Conservation would not be celebrating its 10th year and still be going strong and growing. We have been joined by many other organizations in providing a fishing experience for the kids of the coast – and all will tell you that the smiles are immeasurable as out Casting kids catch a fish and know that fishing is fun.
Gulfport was joined by Pascagoula in 2008, Bay St. Louis in 2009, and Biloxi in 2010. Since then, the four coastal chapters have coordinated Casting for Conservation that now span the summer across the coast with invitations from festivals that we join with a Casting event.
What distinguishes Casting for Conservation events from many children’s tournaments:
Registration is FREE for children 5 to 13 and each child receives what for many of them is their first rod-and-reel and a distinctive t-shirt with the Casting for Conservation logo on the back. Many of these kids arrive with a grandparent or parent who does not know fishing and our task is to provide that help;
Every child is a winner – the decision was made early on to emphasize catch-and-release with no fish weighed.
The program is an educational experience – learning to string a fishing rod and then cast, tie a basic fishing knot, properly release a fish when caught, touch real fish that are displayed, learn about safety on the water, marine research, and what it means to be a “marine conservationist.”
The future for our sport falls to those who value the marine environment and coming to appreciate that starts early. That is what Casting for Conservation is all about – one child at a time.
Thanks to our sponsors Quantum & Zebco, Killer Bee Bait, Department of Marine Resources (DMR), Academy, Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, Silver Slipper Casino, and Allen Beverages that allow us to be able to host these events for the youth anglers along the MS Gulf Coast.