Thursday, September 25, 2014


If you’re going to get involved in fisheries advocacy, one of the basic truths is that you’re going to read a lot of stuff.

You’re going to read stock assessments and meeting minutes, regulations and statutes and scientific papers.  You’re going to read press releases and magazine articles, books and websites and just about anything else that might give you some insight into the process and help you to get the job done.

And along the way, every once in a while, you’re going to read something that’s so incredibly stupid that it’s going to stop you in your tracks, and make you try to figure out whether the author was serious, or just penning bad parody.  The sort of thing that makes you want to laugh because it’s so outrageous, and cry at the same time, because people so mind-numbingly clueless are walking around out there, trying to affect policy that will impact us all.

You don’t come across that sort of thing very often, in part because most folks have editors and in part because Darwin was right, but every so often someone beats the odds and then proceeds to beat on our tired intellects with something that gives birth to a sense of wonder that something can be so completely and irredeemably dumb.

I, along with a host of other anglers in the New York/New Jersey/New England region were “treated” to such a phenomenon last night, when an e-mail from The Fishing Line media operation, and it’s owner, Rich Johnson, appeared in our e-mails.

Like so many things that we read these days, it dealt with striped bass.

You remember striped bass.

They’re the fish that were nursed back to health back in ‘95, after a sharp and disastrous collapse, but are starting to slide toward the abyss once again.

They’re the fish that brought a couple hundred of us to Stony Brook University one night last week, in an effort to stop that slide and start the rebuilding.  And they’re the fish that brought out anglers in a bunch of other places, in a lot of other states, who have spoken with what one blogger called a “loud and consistent voice” to cut the bag limit from two fish to one and raise the minimum size from 28 to 32 inches.

But Rich Johnson says we are wrong.

According to his e-mail, there’s no problem with the stock; he says that

“…things seem to be in good shape with little exceptions.”
I can imagine Abraham Lincoln’s doctor saying about the same thing, after that night at Ford’s Theatre.

“The President is in good shape for a man of his age, except for that one little wound…”
For “little exceptions” can make a pretty big difference to a person’s—or a fish stock’s—health.

But Johnson says that even if the fish can be a little scarce

“We know and must presume the populations of all species, with bluefish and stripers in particular, were severely affected by [Hurricane Sandy] and NOT by overfishing.”
Maybe Johnson “[knows] and must presume” that, but a lot of the rest of us read the stock assessment, and actually understand what’s going on.  We know that a peer review conducted by recognized international experts in fisheries science agreed with the assessment’s conclusion that the fishing mortality rate is too high, abundance has been declining for a decade and the stock will be overfished next year, if it isn’t already.

But why should anyone take the word of professional fisheries scientists when they can listen to Rich Johnson, a self-proclaimed “leader in fisheries management” telling us that all is well?  After all, he seems to think that we really don’t matter, and claims to represent “the larger segments of the fishing community” who “are NOT in favor of [changing the regulations]”.

I’m not quite sure who voted, or when, to appoint him their leader, but apparently he

“represents the entire recreational fishing community with a larger segment of every day “fish for the table” minded anglers as well as sportfishermen and surfcasters.  [emphasis added]”
Now, I hate to cast aspersions on a man’s credibility, but when Johnson says that he represents “the entire recreational fishing community,” he might be overstepping the truth just a bit. 

I mean, for a start, he sure doesn’t represent me. 

Nor does he represent my friends who fish.  They think that the man is an ass. 

He doesn’t represent the other anglers I know, who largely agree with my friends.

He doesn’t represent the fishing club that I spoke to a few days ago, or the couple of hundred anglers who showed up the Stony Brook meeting, or…

Well, you get the idea.

But Johnson apparently doesn’t, and tries to strike some false distinction between people who like to catch fish and people who like to eat them.  Personally, I like to do both, but I figured out years ago that you’re more likely to eat more fish on a regular basis if you make sure that there are plenty in the water to catch.

But rationality and responsibility don’t seem to hold a high place on Johnson’s agenda, as he attacks conservation advocates while wrongly asserting that

“…all user groups have a right to put fish on the dining room table a few times per week no matter what specie [sic] it is.”
That may be because Johnson is as good a lawyer and he is a fisheries manager, and thus doesn’t seem to understand the fact that

In other words, anglers may have the privilege of harvesting a striped bass for dinner, but that privilege is subject to the government’s obligation to maintain a healthy stock.  No one has “a right to put fish on the dining room table a few times per week” if the population is not in good shape and such level of harvest would reduce the “quality and quantity” of fish below a level acceptable to the community.

Which is exactly what the striped bass debate is about.  The community, represented by all of the anglers coming out to speak at all of the meetings held in every state between Maine and North Carolina, is demanding that harvest be reduced, because too many people have been putting too many bass on too many dining room tables, and the population can’t sustain the pressure.

Johnson’s imagined “right” of some people to kill and eat too many bass must be subordinated to the government’s very real duty to maintain the “quality and quantity” of the striped bass stock.

By now, readers might think that I’ve given up far too much time and space to an ultimately trivial e-mail sent by an insignificant and largely irrelevant author.  But there is a larger point to be made.

Those of us who know Rich Johnson probably realize that he wouldn’t draft a whole two-page letter all by himself.  

Those of us who were at the Stony Brook meeting should recall the comments of a certain North Shore partyboat owner who hit every note set out in the Johnson missive.  

And those of us who get—for whatever reason—The Fishing Line’s e-mails may have noticed that the very same North Shore partyboat owner always appears, as a sponsor, in Johnson’s weekly reports.

In other words, Johnson’s comments didn’t appear out of a vacuum; rather than springing full blown from his mind, they were likely suggested by others.  And all of those points—not just the ones that I detailed above, but also the sadly stereotyped claim that the folks turning out at the meetings don’t represent

“The Americans who are black, Hispanic, Indian, Asian and others that were not present and…are the user groups that fish for the table…”

and the assertion that

“This very well may be the exact right time to institute slot limits on bass…with one fish of 24 to 28 inches”
(so we can beat up the 2011 year class before it has to spawn just one time)—represent the thinking of folks in the recreational fishing industry who believe, as Johnson wrote, that

“the ‘trophy’ tag needs to come off the striped bass and keep it a table fish like other fish species.”
We didn’t hear such things at the Stony Brook meeting, but we can be sure that they’re being said on telephone calls and in private meetings, as the party boats and other fishing industry members fight against conservation efforts and try to convert one of the great game fish of the American coast into a panfish on the same path to depletion already taken by blackfish (tautog) and winter flounder.

Thus, it is incumbent upon all of us to get our comments supporting proper management to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission prior to the September 30 deadline, and to convince every responsible angler we know to do the same thing.

For if we fail to do so, and ASMFC gets too many dumb comments, it may do something really stupid in response.

It might manage the fishery the way Johnson wants to…


  1. What is the name of the party boat, and party boat captain, would love to slam them on social media

    1. I intentionally left out his name, because in the end it's not about just one boat, but about the effort of many of the for-hires to frustrate efforts to conserve the bass. This isn't about one guy, it's about an industry that insists on living in the past and not realizing that under today.s conditions, the old ways of killing everything that moves just doesn't work.

    2. RON.HAWK R/E Winter flounder.
      Depletion hell its EXTINCTION !!!