Our Brother's KeeperBy Alanna Keating
Published: April/May 2013
Finding ways to turn anglers into the guardians of rivers and lakes drives the founder of Recycled Fish.
Who was your hero when you were a kid? Superman? Your local policeman? Wonder Woman? Your teacher? In the 4th grade, Teeg Stouffer was told to write a letter to his hero as part of a class assignment. While the rest of the class wrote letters to movie stars and football players, Stouffer wrote his letter to legendary professional angler Jimmy Houston. Out of a class of 20 kids, his was the only hero to write back. It made an impression and helped to fuel Stouffer's lifelong passion for fishing. At a young age when other kids' Christmas lists included the latest games and gadgets, he asked for subscriptions to Field & Stream and Bassmaster magazines.
It's not surprising then that Stouffer found a way to combine his love of the water with his career. While he started out working in radio and event planning, Stouffer's career path took a turn one day while fly-fishing in the Cascade Mountains. As he recalls, "It was one of those epic fishing days where everything was going right." Everywhere he thought there would be fish, there were. Every cast was perfect. But despite having one of the best fishing days of his life, Stouffer had a nagging feeling that he couldn't shake. The waterway Stouffer was fishing that day was once teeming with salmon, and while the trout fishing was still great, there weren't many salmon left. He feared that his kids and grandkids might never get to experience this type of day on the water. After some reflection, the mission and concept of Recycled Fish came to life. Stouffer knew something needed to be done to preserve our waterways and fishing for future generations, and he needed to be a part of it.
Fast forward 10 years and Recycled Fish has grown from an idea in the mind of a passionate angler to a national organization educating anglers on how to live a lifestyle of stewardship on and off the water. Recycled Fish started educating anglers on catch-and-release fishing. As these concepts began to catch on across the country, they expanded their mission to educate anglers on simple, practical ways to protect their waterways every day. That’s when Stouffer looked to the BoatUS Foundation for assistance through the Grassroots Grants program, which is funded by the generous donations of BoatUS members. For more than 20 years, the BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water has awarded grants to nonprofit organizations around the
Last year, the Foundation invited boaters to vote on their website and on their Facebook page for their favorite projects. In 2012, with more than 11,000 votes from BoatUS members and the general public, Recycled Fish received a grant to seed their biggest program to date. Their "1 Million Stewards" program gives people a way to make a meaningful difference, on their schedule, and at their commitment level — a multifaceted approach to educate boaters and anglers to take care of their waterways. Each person who signs their Stewardship Pledge receives a Steward kit including a bag to clean up trash while on the water, a book that educates on stewardship actions, and access to a website that gives them a chance to share what they're doing, teach others, and really see the impact they're making. Stouffer feels people need a specific action that helps create the identity of being a steward, and access to resources to take stewardship behavior from the waterways and into their homes. Through the 1 Million Stewards program, people can embrace a new identity beyond consumer or user of our natural resources, and become a steward and
Stouffer and his staff have attended 12 fishing tournaments and events, sent e-newsletters containing stewardship tips to nearly 5,000 people each week, and built a popular interactive website, all resulting in more than 14,000 people signing the Stewardship Pledge. And they’re doing more than just signing. The program has tremendous reach and is building momentum every day. A study conducted by Recycled Fish of people who signed the pledge showed that 65 percent will change the way they interact with their waterways and 90 percent have learned more about stewardship.
While Recycled Fish has seen great success in building the 1 Million Stewards program, their work isn't done. If you've ever spotted Styrofoam bait cups floating in the water, you know their next challenge. This year, Recycled Fish partnered with DMF Bait Co., the largest bait distributor in the U.S., to tackle this problem. All bait containers from DMF Bait Co. are now biodegradable and sport the Recycled Fish logo as well as a link to stewardship tips.
With his endless enthusiasm for conservation and fishing, Stouffer is now a hero to many. He kept the letter that Houston wrote him and now gets to hang out with his hero at fishing tournaments and events around the country. Stouffer, his small staff, and their army of supporters continue to grow the 1 Million Stewards program and several other key programs, reaching new boaters and anglers every day with their stewardship messages. For more on Recycled Fish, visit www. recycledfish.org. For more on the BoatUS Foundation Grassroots Grants program, and how you can support our efforts, visit www.BoatUS.com/Foundation.
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Our Lifestyle Runs Downstream
Recycled Fish's motto is "Our Lifestyle Runs Downstream." Here are a few tips on how you can reduce your impact on our waterways while on or off the water.
- Clean, drain, and dry all boating and fishing equipment to keep invasive species from spreading to other waterways.
- Keep a trash bag onboard, and keep your trash out of the water. Also, pick up some trash and bring it ashore.
- Catch and release quickly. Take pictures fast and return fish to the water carefully, or they won't survive.
- Reuse: Invest in a reusable water bottle. Leave the expensive bottled water at the store.
- Turn off lights when you leave a room. Burning fossil fuels leads to air and water pollution.
- Make sure your engines are in good working condition. Malfunctioning engines can leak fuel, or use too much of it.
- Use low-flow showerheads, faucets, and toilets. The majority of water usage comes from showers, faucets, and toilets.
- Recycle paper, plastic, aluminum, and glass — at home, at work, and on the water.
- Introduce new people to boating and fishing. There’s no better way to connect to our natural resources than by enjoying them firsthand and you can show new boaters how they can become stewards of their waterways, too.
Since 1989, the BoatUS Foundation's Grass roots Grants program has awa rded more than $1 Million to nonprofit organizations to educate boaters on safe and clean boating topics.