Thursday, August 14, 2014


As I’ve noted before in this blog, most anglers like to think of themselves as the good guys.

If you catch them in a moment of honesty, maybe down at the dock in the evening, or standing around the bar before their fishing club meeting convenes, they’ll tell you sure, they want to take fish home, but they’ll be glad to take a few less if that means that their kids and their grandkids will be able to have good fishing, too.

They’ll tell you that they’re a little concerned that there’s not enough bait for the bass to feed on, and that the sewer plant over by Bay Park is doing bad things to the bay.

They understand what “conservation” means, and on the whole, think that it’s a pretty good idea.

So it gets a little puzzling that, when somebody mentions “environmentalists”—folks who, as a whole, want to make sure there are enough fish around for the next generation, protect stocks of the forage fish and try to clean up our waters and protect essential fish habitat—a lot of anglers suddenly start breathing hard, pointing fingers, and calling those folks “the enemy.”

It doesn’t make a lot of sense, because as Ted Williams points out in a recent blog post on Field & Stream magazine’s website, when you get anglers—or any sportsmen—and enviros pulling in the same direction, you get a combination that’s pretty close to unbeatable.

And maybe that’s part of the problem.

Because, while we like to think of ourselves as the good guys, the fact is that the angling community, like most communities, has its less-evolved members, along with our equivalent of the eccentric folks who paint old vans in exotic colors and park in front of post offices handing out flyers that warn of United Nations plots to take over America or let us know—without room for doubt—that the current President is really Osama bin-Laden’s godson.

We probably don’t believe Englishman David Icke when he says that

We might be a little skeptical when the “Vigilant Citizen” website tells us that

Astana [Kazakhstan] is the first capital being built in the 21st century and it perfectly represents where the world is headed…Backed by billions of petrodollars, the city is being built from scratch in a remote and deserted area of the Asian steppes. The result is astonishing: a futuristic occult capital, embracing the New World Order while celebrating the most ancient religion known to man: Sun Worship.”
However, far too many of us believe groups such as the Recreational Fishing Alliance when they publish similarly fictional statements, such as

But I’ll let you in on a secret that the conspiracy theorists out at the fringe of the angling community don’t want you to know:  Many of the most reviled enviros fish—a lot.  Their love for the sport is what got many of them into the fish-protection business in the first place. 

They know how important healthy fish stocks are to anglers for the very simple reason that they’re anglers themselves.

And that troubles our local Neanderthals, who have spent most of the last decade or two fighting for their imaginary “right” to ignore scientific advice and overfish whatever stocks they might choose.  The sparse gray matter that resides beneath their thick and bony brows is sufficient to make them realize that if anglers and enviros ever got together to make common cause, the days of overfishing and overfished stocks will be over.

So they have tried to poison the waters, and alienate anglers from the environmental community.  And they have met with a lot of success.

At first glance, it seems hard to believe that a very small group of people, with limited financial resources, should have been so successful in turning the angling community against those who should be its most effective allies. 

However, if you look a little closer, you’ll see that the cave-dwellers had help from some very smart people.

And that’s the enviros themselves.

Who, for very bright people, occasionally do some incredibly dumb things, which provide the “more dead fish for us” crowd (yes, another borrowed Ted Williams phrase) all the ammunition they to wage a successful fight for the hearts and minds of the angling community.

It started back in the late ‘90s, when a number of the environmental organizations came up with the concept of marine reserves.  The idea was to close off about 20% of the ocean to consumptive activities, and that included recreational fishing.  Not even catch and release angling would be allowed.

That got a lot of anglers—including myself—pretty upset, particularly because the enviros came out of the box swinging, without giving anglers—who stood to lose quite a bit—a meaningful chance to weigh in on the idea and offer suggestions that would close areas to truly harmful activities without cutting the legs out from under recreational fishermen.

For example, outlawing bottom fishing in selected areas could protect Pacific rockfish without hurting anglers who fish for the billfish and tuna that swim a couple of hundred feet above the bottom that rockfish call home. 

Using rockfish as an excuse to close areas to all fishing—including catch and release for pelagic species—didn’t do anything but piss anglers off.

And that was a foolish and shortsighted thing to do, because it gave the troglodytes a new lease on life.  Instead of sinking quietly into some dustbin of intellectual evolution, they found a new niche that let them continuously crow about environmentalists hating anglers and wanting to force fishermen off of the water.

After anglers heard enough of such comments, they began to accept them as true.

Even though the throwbacks only spoke for themselves, and not for the greater angling community, the enviros made few serious efforts to reach out to the mainstream angler.   A few years ago, Josh Reichert, head of all environmental programs at the Pew Charitable Trusts, agreed to an interview with Sport Fishing Magazine.  When asked how he viewed the angling community, Reichert said simply

I would assume that most [anglers] are [conservationists] and, if asked, the majority of weekend anglers would say that the resource should be managed in ways that keep it healthy. In that sense, I think there is a conservation ethic among a large percent of recreational fishermen.
“…There are certainly large numbers of anglers who, if organized effectively, could be a significant force for conservation.
Yet, although he acknowledged that anglers could be “a significant force for conservation,” when asked about efforts to do outreach to improve his organization’s image in the angling community, he effectively dismissed the notion, saying

There are a few people and organizations that have a vested  interest in creating these false perceptions and are likely to continue to do so no matter what we do or say. If  anyone takes the trouble to read the materials we make available, which go to great pains to explain what we're doing in the world, it will become very clear what we are doing and what we are not…
We have staff members in numerous places around the United States who interact constantly with both recreational and commercial fishermen. There's a lot of contact on the ground, and our positions on these issues have been published in hundreds of opinion editorials, letters to the editor and responses to media questions over the years. I don't think the problem is lack of outreach. Rather, it is the concerted effort of some fishing organizations to simply distort what we do…
“There's only so much we can do to set the record straight. If some people want to continue to insist that there's something Machiavellian going on about what we're doing or that we're trying to disguise our "real intentions," the best we can do is to be absolutely transparent about our work and then get on with the job of preventing overfishing and rebuilding populations that are so critical to both the commercial and recreational fishing industries.
At the time, that struck me as a pretty foolish position, and it still does.  If you stop and think about it few, if any, major environmental laws have ever been passed without the support of at least some sector of the sporting community.  And that includes the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

So if you’re involved in salt water fisheries management, and you want to see a strong Magnuson Act, it would make sense to reach out to sportsmen--which means recreational fishermen.

The enviros were finally starting to do a little bit better job on outreach—when another incredibly dumb move down in the Gulf of Mexico made things worse than they had been before.

Anyone who follows salt water fisheries issues knows knows that red snapper management down in the Gulf is a mess.  It’s nobody’s fault, really—managing recovering stocks is a tough thing to do, unpopular restrictions are needed to get the job done and anglers—egged on by the primitives—tend to criticize management before they understand it.

The stock was overfished, and continued overfishing was hampering recovery.  So when the enviros decided to favor the commercial and charter fishing sectors—which have relatively few members and thus are fairly easy to manage—over the private recreational fishermen, it probably made sense in the red snapper context.

However, from the perspective of broad, long-term strategy, alienating the largest, wealthiest and most politically active sector in the Gulf of Mexico made no sense at all.  Neither did giving the cave-dwellers another reason to beat the “anti-angling” drum.  But the enviros did it anyway…

In the end, both anglers and enviros have failed to deal with one another rationally.

It’s time for all of us to clean up our acts.

Anglers have to start using the brains they were born with, and abandon knee-jerk reactions every time the enviros tell them to kill fewer fish.

And the enviros have to realize, at the policymaking level, that the size, passion and political influence of the angling community makes us both valuable allies and dangerous enemies.  Too valuable—and too dangerous—to ignore.

Both sides can only profit from sincere efforts to reach out to one another and build a meaningful alliance.

We’re always going to disagree about some things, but that’s OK.  I’ve been married for nearly 33 years, and love my wife more today than on our wedding day, if any such thing is possible.  Yet, at times, we don’t see eye to eye.  We even exchange sharp words.  But we remain inextricably bound.

So anglers and enviros can probably share the occasional harsh word, too…

Last fall, I had the chance to fish with a couple of folks from Pew’s U.S. ocean program, aboard the boat of a mutual friend.  They were enthusiastic, capable anglers, who would never want to abandon their sport. 

Enviros can be hardcase anglers.  I have spent time with them, and know this to be true.

A couple of years ago Rich Landers, an outdoor editor for the The [Spokane] Spokesman-Review said

“Now, more than ever, a sportsman who is not an environmentalist is a fool.”
I have looked out onto the landscape, and then into my heart, and know this, too, to be true.

Because in the end, most anglers are enviros, although they usually won't admit it, not even to themselves.

We want healthy fish stocks, clean water, enough forage fish and adequate habitat, both for ourselves and for generations yet unborn, people who we will never know, but who deserve them all the same.

What enviro wants anything more—or will settle for anything less?

Ted Williams ended his Field & Stream piece by observing

“Winston Churchill’s hatred of communism was virtually unrivaled in Europe or America. He defined communists as the lowest ‘criminal class’ and ‘baboons’ who pursued ‘sub-human goals.’ So all who love fish and wildlife should recall Churchill’s words when he was scolded about England’s alliance with Stalin: ‘I have only one purpose, the destruction of Hitler, and my life is much simplified thereby. If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.’’
He suggested that if Churchill and Stalin could set aside their differences to promote the common good, sportsmen and enviros should be able to do the same.

It’s hard to disagree.


  1. You lost me at 'Ted Williams.'

  2. As always another great piece of writing. I wish the hunting community had more guys like you around.

    1. Thanks.

      As far as the hunting community goes, take a look at David Petersen's stuff. I can particularly recommend Heartsblood. Because yes, I'm a pretty serious hunter, too, and I can tell you that Petersen gets it.