On Wednesday, June 17, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and Rep. Neal Dunn (R-Fla.) visited Half Hitch in Panama City, Fla. The visit with the Florida-based tackle shop, an American Sportfishing Association (ASA) member, focused on the importance of the sportfishing industry in Florida and included a broader discussion about the impacts of COVID-19 on the outdoor industry and ways the federal government has worked to increase boating and fishing access.

An avid angler, Secretary Bernhardt, along with Rep. Dunn, enthusiastically toured the newly expanded, family-owned facility to see the renovated floor space, the extensive reel repair shop and the custom rod facility. Half Hitch’s owner, Tom Putnam, explained the operation’s initial challenges during the COVID-19 crisis and his efforts to retain employees throughout. He also relayed encouraging improvements in store sales over the last two months.

“We appreciate Secretary Bernhardt and Congressman Dunn visiting Half Hitch to see first-hand the importance of the sportfishing industry in Florida and relate how they’re working to expand access on federal lands for boaters and anglers across the nation,” said Kellie Ralston, ASA’s Southeast Fisheries Policy director. “While COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on the national economy, we are encouraged that the public has turned to recreational fishing as a safe, family-friendly way to reconnect and experience the outdoors.”

During the visit, Secretary Bernhardt also referenced the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act by the U.S. Senate and the importance of supporting our public lands and waters.

Florida is the “Fishing Capital of the World,” with more than four million anglers who generate $11.5 billion in economic impact, support more than 106,000 jobs and contribute $56.7 million to state conservation efforts through license fees and special taxes on motorboat fuel and equipment.