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Fly Fisherman's 2024 Conservationist of the Year: Peter Jenkins

30-plus years of saltwater gamefish conservation.

Fly Fisherman's 2024 Conservationist of the Year: Peter Jenkins
Peter Jenkins has been chairman of the American Saltwater Guides Association since its inception in 2019. The group was cofounded by Tony Friedrich, who is now policy director. The group was formed to promote sustainable business through marine conservation. (Earl Evans photo)

Around quitting time, Peter Jenkins got the gouge of a knot of big striped bass at 40 Steps. Everyone knows the rock staircase that descends to the sea. It’s been an integral part of the Newport, Rhode Island scene since the young servants working at the Vanderbilt, Astor, and Morgan mansions used it for a hang. Jenkins had a tough day at work, and he wanted to unwind: Yeah, that’s right, he wanted to unwind 100 feet of fly line and at least 75 yards of backing.

In Newport, just about everything drips opulence, even the rocks along the shoreline. Some are 300 million years old from the Coal Age, while others display a yellow hue caused by iron oxide bleeding from the rock. Their beauty will disappear when the sun sets, just as it will become difficult to see. But if you need to find Jenkins, just listen. His Korkers will give away his position with a click-clack resembling a New Orleans tap dancer shucking to make a buck.

Tonight’s million-dollar question isn’t how Jenkins is going to get down 40 Steps in his Simms Freestones with overshoes. The question is how will he get back up? If the gouge is true, Jenkins will hang a bunch of corker bass. He’ll be so jacked that he’ll dash up 40 Steps with the long-ago form he used while running stadium stairs as an All American lacrosse player. But if he caught something else—maybe a dink, a couple of rats, or a slot—he’ll trudge up those stairs deep in thought. Jenkins won’t be thinking about tonight’s shitty fishing, just as he won’t be reminiscing about the good old days. Jenkins will be noodling around how to make the future resemble the past.

Peter Jenkins has waded deep into striped bass conservation for decades, and he’s been the volunteer chairman of the American Saltwater Guides Association (ASGA) for a long while, too. His team-first approach is creating big wins, and several more are about to erupt. And they all began with his relationship with striped bass.

Conservation Data

Jenkins’s personal relationship with striped bass stocks resembles the EKG of a patient in cardiac arrest. He learned to fish during the back half of the Golden Age. During that time, if you bragged about a fish smaller than 30 pounds you pretty much sucked as a fisherman.

“My maternal grandfather, Wandell Mooney, taught me how to fish,” Jenkins explained. “He lived on Wings Neck in a house overlooking Buzzards Bay. When he was discharged from World War II service, he returned home, grabbed a fiberglass rod, and routinely caught striped bass upwards of 40 pounds. The Salt Water Sportsman, the Boston-based magazine founded in 1939 by publisher Hal Lyman and legendary editor Frank Woolner, chronicled that era. Those were heady times, ones we never thought would end.”

A collage of people in a boat collecting albie samples.
The American Saltwater Guides Association is widely known for its work on striped bass conservation but they have also done extensive work in protecting Louisiana redfish. ASGA under the leadership of Peter Jenkins is now also involved in a telemetry and DNA study in cooperation with the New England Aquarium called The Albie Project. (Photos courtesy of Rex Messing and Simms Fishing Products)

But end they did. Striped bass stocks—in the era of Camaros, platform shoes, and Bee Gees 8-track tapes—plummeted. In a Sports Illustrated magazine article, Robert H. Boyle tore the Band-Aid off the wound. “Since 1973,” he wrote, “the sports and commercial catch of striped bass on the East Coast has declined by 90%, and this catastrophic slump has cost coastal counties from North Carolina to Maine a potential $220 million annually and 7,000 jobs.”

Jenkins saw that decline firsthand. “After a decade of lots of big fish, I mostly caught bluefish,” he said. “Since striped bass were so difficult to find, I started caddying at a local country club. One of my regulars was a member named F.W. Randebrock, a New Yorker and one of Ray Bergman’s fishing buddies. Randebrock introduced me to conservation, saying that, ‘Conservation is an essential part of being a sportsman.’ If we could do that with striped bass, then we’d have lots of fish to catch. Conservation has been part of my DNA ever since.”

ASGA Chairman

In the 1990s, Jenkins wasn’t too worried about striped bass conservation. He was focused on growing two businesses in which he’d invested. The first was Reel Time, the first dedicated saltwater fly-fishing web page. The second was his Newport, Rhode Island fly shop and guide service, The Saltwater Edge. Thanks to management efforts to assist the 1982 year class of striped bass, the species was declared restored by 1995. Stripers were everywhere, just as they had been when Jenkins was a kid. For a second time, Jenkins witnessed the “it’ll never end” attitude, which was accompanied by the relaxing of recreational limits and the increase of the commercial quota.

After bearing witness to two peak fishing eras followed by two dramatic crashes, Jenkins had seen enough. He got involved as the chairman of the American Saltwater Guides Association. ASGA’s mission is to promote better business through conservation, and the organization conducts scientific research to support their position. That research is used in state and national fisheries meetings and gives all stakeholders a voice. Certainly anglers want to harvest fish, especially fish like the striped bass, which makes for excellent table fare. But more than that meal, ASGA members are interested in healthy striper stocks that will provide excellent fishing for future generations. And Jenkins’s team approach is winning.

A man in a boat holding a black drum fish.
The annual Sheepy Tournament is a fly-fishing-only, sheepshead catch-and-release event in Hopedale, Louisiana, that raises money to fund ongoing redfish conservation efforts in the state. ASGA has been working with the Louisiana Wildlife Commission to reduce harvest and help redfish stocks recover. (Photo courtesy Nick Jones)

“The striped bass is everyman’s fish,” he said. “I learned that from my good friend Kenney Abrames, the writer, artist, and originator of flatwing flies in the salt. The title of Kenney’s flatwing fly-tying book, A Perfect Fish, says it all. He’s got an incredible understanding of and connection to the striped bass, one that I try to share with others, as he shared it with me.”

Uniting stakeholders has been the key to Jenkins’s success. “We collectively make progress when we can agree on two points,” he said. “First, that striped bass have a greater value when they are swimming in the water, and second, that everyone who pursues striped bass shares a common conservation bond. All fishermen know that it’s the ‘why’ of why we pursue them. ASGA offers a louder voice and resources that are science based and can help shape decisions. If we do not speak up to protect and preserve the things that make us come alive, then we will find ourselves with even more limited resources in the years ahead.”

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“We gotta stop meeting like this,” says Tony Friedrich, the president and policy director of ASGA. Friedrich might log more connects in a week with Jenkins than anyone else, families included.

“I honestly don’t know what I’d do without Peter,” Friedrich said. “He’s smart, insightful, creative, and tirelessly focused in his approach to everything. Look at The Saltwater Edge and you’ll see fly-fishing classes, tying demonstrations, rigging clinics, destination travel, podcasts, web content, social media outreach, consumer shows, and web sales, all of which are in addition to running a bricks-and-mortar business. As the ASGA chairman, he’s equally tireless with his commitment to conservation. He runs regular video conferences that link stakeholders and recreational anglers, and travels to meet with decision makers in all the coastal states as well as on Capitol Hill.

“All of Jenkins’s podcasts, digital articles, film series, emails, and in-person visits show anglers that ASGA is working to improve striped bass stocks and having significant success, too. Honestly,” he said. “I don’t know when—or if—he sleeps.”

What started as a striped bass passion play has emerged into an entire marine overhaul.

“Jenkins’s attitude is important because striped bass really are only one leg of the stool,” said Friedrich. “Right now, Peter and I are doing groundbreaking work on another favorite fish—false albacore. There really hasn’t been a lot of research on false albacore, so we’ve been working with the New England Aquarium and our guides on groundbreaking telemetry work, as well as DNA studies and traditional tagging, to build a case that will be used in first-ever management efforts. We also are partnering with The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to incorporate recreational fishing data into stock assessments through the app ‘Got One!’ Peter and I are working on a major redfish conservation project in Louisiana, just as we’re engaged in open ocean aquaculture, bluefish, menhaden, clean water, habitat, and other issues.

A striped bass held half in half out of the water.
The current efforts of the American Saltwater Guides Association are centered around protecting the 2015 year class of striped bass. Spawning productivity has been terrible to nonexistent in the years that followed 2015. Protecting this cohort is the greatest hope for a striped bass comeback that will require many years of sharply reduced harvest.

“We continue to work after our normal business hours have ended, at night and on a lot of weekends. Conservation is worth it, especially because after years of those long hours we’re on the cusp of some revolutionary wins. Those wins are for everyone who uses marine resources and are across the entire oceanic ecosystem.”

2015 Year Class

Like Jenkins, Pat Keliher, commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, has personally witnessed the dramatic rise and fall of striped bass from a few different perspectives. The first was when he was one of the earliest saltwater fly-fishing guides in the Northeast, and the second was as the New England regional executive director of the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA). His current view gives him a clear line of sight into all marine-related issues, which include sticky wickets like how to balance right whale conservation without collapsing the billion-dollar Maine lobster industry. Striped bass proposals are important to him, and as a result he overlaps with the ASGA.

“Jenkins’s organization started at the perfect time in striped bass conservation,” Keliher pointed out. “They came to the effort with a fresh perspective, a proactive vision, and lots of enthusiasm. ASGA focuses a lot of attention on educating the angler, which is important, and it’s especially critical when hard choices have to be made. Right now we all agree on protecting the 2015 year class, which was one of the stronger spawning years in recent times.

“Narrowing slot limits and shortening quotas cause a lot of stakeholders heartburn, but these are essential to ensure sustainability. We all are at a tipping point now, and if the last set of management plans don’t work, then we’ll all have to come up with another plan. I’ll look forward to working with Peter Jenkins and the ASGA team, and together we hopefully will arrive at a future win.”

Peter Jenkins in a boat holding a fly rod and a tuna.
Conservationist of the Year Peter Jenkins lives in Rhode Island, and his second home is the rocky saltwater shoreline near 40 Steps and other locations on the coast. He owns the specialty retailer The Saltwater Edge on Aquidneck Island and works collaboratively with other retailers, with the idea that there are plenty of customers when there are plenty of fish to catch. (Tom Kosinski photo)

Collaborative Effort

You’d think that two fly shops that are 30 miles apart would be cutthroat competitive, but that’s not the case between Scott Wessels’s Bear’s Den (in Taunton, Massachusetts) and Peter Jenkins’s Saltwater Edge in Newport, RI.

“My dad started the Bear’s Den in 1989, just a few years earlier than the Edge. Originally it was an all-outdoors store, but when the striped bass stocks came roaring back in the 1990s I found that we could simplify by focusing to one discipline—fly fishing. Sales take care of themselves when there are lots of fish to catch, and when those fish stocks drop we’ve got to work really hard just to scrape by. Our customers are a mix of locals and folks who travel long distances to catch striped bass, bluefish, bonito, false albacore, and other species. Peter’s conservation successes and his dedication to the environment and the fishery are well known. Everything he does is first rate. He and I aren’t competitors; we’re collaborators. And we’re both better off because of it.”

Mike Rice of Mud Dog Saltwater Flies is a commercial fly tier, writer, and photographer who has worked with Jenkins in a number of different capacities. “Peter has always been supportive of the fishing industry,” he said. “His grassroots approach to conservation and fisheries management focuses on improving fisheries to engage customers who provide incomes for professional guides, casting instructors, retail salesmen, and fly tiers like me. He’s seen the lows of fish stocks and realizes that without fish all of these businesses will collapse. I have worked with dozens of shops along the coast, and all are appreciative of his varsity efforts.”

Jenkins’s blog post, “If Fishing is How You See the World,” neatly describes that view of the world. “It doesn’t matter how you vote, what cable news network you watch, or with which political party you affiliate,” Jenkins wrote. “If you come alive while sitting on your truck’s tailgate while tugging on your waders then you identify as a fisherman.”

Whether you live in a coastal region in the middle of the striped bass’s migratory range or if you travel to fish, salt water connects us all, the same way Peter Jenkins connects and educates all stakeholders. His work is far from complete, but thanks to his and his team’s efforts, our perfect fish and fisheries, wherever they may be, stand a fighting chance.


Tom Keer is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist who focuses his attention on active outdoor sports. As a content creator he’s written advertising copy, film and video scripts, and blogs for a wide variety of outlets. His first book, Flyfisher’s  Guide to the New England Coast, was released in January 2011. He lives and writes from his home on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.




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