It’s high time we organize
By Capt. John McMurray
Let me be honest. I’m a little angry. Angry about one instance that’s probably best not to go into here (although it can’t hurt to include the link). But more broadly, angry that what’s likely majority of the recreational fishing community has been misrepresented, or maybe just underrepresented, for an awfully long time.
I’m talking about all of those anglers with foresight. The surfcasters, the light-tackle folks, the flyfishers, the hundreds of thousands of striped bass guys who, well, get it.
These are the folks who actually believe in and understand the value of keeping a few fish in the water; who intuitively understand that ocean resources are finite, and need to be managed sustainably, with precaution; who understand clearly that the more fish industry takes out, the less they are available to the rest of us; and lastly, who understand that abundance equals opportunity, and that such opportunity is quite a bit more important than low size limits and high bags.
The industry version of such anglers? “Light tackle” guides. Those conservation-minded small business owners, both full and part-time, who understand, probably better than anyone, that if there isn’t a good amount of fish in the water, the fishing ain’t good, and people stop opening up their wallets.
Of course, I’m damn proud to be part of that industry. And there are a lot of us! Undoubtedly, we make a significant contribution to economy. We burn A LOT of fuel, and we (and our clients) buy a lot of gear, stay in hotels, eat at local restaurants, and so on.
Yet to managers, and politicians? We appear to mean little. And that’s because they just don’t hear from us. At least not enough to turn the needle.
That needs to change, and it needs to change quickly. Because make no mistake about it, our way of life is under attack.
The Feds appear to be quickly moving forward with a plan to open up federal waters to a striped bass slaughter – during a point in time when just about anyone with any real time on the water understands that stripers, particularly those older larger females more prevalent in federal waters, are in trouble.
On the ASMFC level, things certainly aren’t moving in the right direction. While striper numbers have been declining for well over a decade now, instead of managing that resource conservatively, there are Striped Bass Management Board Members who are pushing hard to move the goal posts. Specifically, they want the biomass threshold and target reference points lowered so harvest can stay level, or actually increase, at a time when any reasonable person would understand that a decrease is in order.
On the bluefish front, there’s an allocation amendment moving though the Council/Commission right now. If we don’t engage here on a meaningful level, we could end up in a world of trouble here. For more info on that read THANK GOD FOR BLUEFISH. For some odd reason, party boat folks seem oh so offended that some of us are suggesting part of the recreational quota be counted as fish left in the water, rather than simply those extracted. I don’t really understand their rationale; they just seem categorically opposed to any sort of conservation measure.
And menhaden? Well, we’ve all seen that extraordinary resurgence of this critical bait source in recent years, along with the whales etc, that came with it. Most people who can still employ common sense understand that’s because the Commission had the guts to finally do a 20% reduction in harvest back in 2012. Unfortunately, in the last two years, the Commission has pushed landings back up by 26% largely to benefit one industry in one state. Because somehow the menhaden reduction industry has squashed any effort to have menhaden managed in an ecosystem (read baitfish) context. Because, who gives a crap about the striped bass, the bluefish, the whales and everything else that eats menhaden? (Sarcasm in case you didn’t get it.) In fact, there are big factory ships sucking up millions of menhaden just outside of New York’s Ambrose Channel as I write this. And that truly stinks.
Indeed ENGOs, local clubs, the whale folks and lots of anglers have spoken out on menhaden. But the party-boat crowd, they haven’t said a word, at least not that I’m aware of. Because it’s pretty darn clear, to me, and to everyone, they are more concerned with extraction, and have little use for conservation. And that’s fine. But they sure as hell do not represent “us”.
Perhaps more important than all of this is what’s happening in DC right now. There are a couple of different bills moving though congress which seek to liberalize how we manage fisheries: H.R. 200, the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, and S.1520, the, Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017. Let me be clear that they are both unveiled attempts to either remove or provide loopholes to the effective conservation provisions of current law.
In the end, that would put guys like us, who depend on healthy and abundant fish stocks in a bad place. And if you think that stuff wouldn’t trickle down to state managed fisheries, well then you’re pretty naive.
Certain parts of the angling community have come out in support of such bills and are trying to create the perception is that the entire recreational community supports them. And that’s unfortunate, because it is nowhere close to the truth.
Take it from somebody who just spent 9 years on the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council, and a little over two years as a proxy on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. It is the, we-need-to-kill-more folks on the recreational side (generally, the party-boat crowd) who tend to dominate the discussion. It is the local fishing rag writers who have a clear distain for conservation, and a thinly veiled distain for us: see On The Disdain For Abundant Fish Stocks.
Managers are left with the perception that anglers just want to kill more. Same could be said for both state and national legislators. Because generally, that’s who they hear from. And that sucks. Because it’s NOT who or what the larger angling community is, and it certainly isn’t who we are.
This kind of stuff has to stop. Guides need to organize, and we need to start speaking up. Letting managers and politicians know that we are here, and that we count. That conservation is important not only to us, but to our clients and to most of the angling community.
Really, we need to get it together. Because as an industry voice, guides are just as important as the more traditional charter/party boat fleet who sometimes seem to want nothing more than to kill more fish, regardless of stock status. Perhaps we’re even more important, given the economic impact of trips taken, gear bought, travel, hotels and other typical expenses of light-tackle anglers.
So consider this an appeal. Because we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by developing such a coalition. There is strength in such a consolidated voice of conservation minded guides. Perhaps we’ll call it the “Mid-Atlantic/New England Guides Association.”
I’m calling you guys out. You know who you are. The “fish-junkies.” The Captains. Those of us who have made great sacrifices to live the life-style we live. Those who are passionate about fishing, about the fish, and about conservation. And I’m not just talking about those of us who fish every day, I’m talking about the part-timers too.
Because our lifestyle, our livelihood is at stake here.
Do it now… And let’s get this thing rolling.