Thursday, May 7, 2015


When I was down in Washington last week, speaking with legislative staff about fisheries issues, I was privileged to share some meetings with Holly Andreotta, Director of the Florida-based Snook and Gamefish Foundation.

The Foundation has been around for a while.  It has made a very big effort to bring anglers into the fishery management process, encouraging them to self-report their catches, thus providing far more data points than the National Marine Fisheries Service and state agencies would be able to collect on their own. 

The effort has borne real fruit, which takes the form of a smartphone “app” that allows anglers to record their landings in real time.  I’ve always been cynical about self-reporting by anglers, believing that too many fishermen would either report their catches selectively or make bogus reports in an attempt to manipulate the system, but I have to admit that the Foundation’s successes to date have made me rethink my position. 

When anglers’ voluntary reports were compared to NMFS’ figures for some commonly-encountered Florida species, the numbers were pretty close to the same.  A lot of other folks seem impressed, too, as a somewhat amended version of the Foundation’s basic app is now being used by Coastal Conservation Association Florida’s STAR Tournament, and in other tournaments being staged anywhere from the Gulf of Mexico to Chesapeake Bay.

But what really impressed me wasn’t Ms. Andreotta’s app, but the comments she made in a number of meetings with congressional staff, as she repeatedly pointed out that we should manage fisheries for future generations, not merely for those fishing today.

She admitted that the words were not originally hers, but were borrowed from a writer she had recently read.  But that didn’t matter, because her obvious conviction that those words were right—not to mention the fact that they were—overrode all origin questions.  Whoever first put them on paper, it was clear that they're scribed on her heart.

It’s not an original notion.  Here in New York, the statute that sets the state policy for managing salt water fisheries, Section 13-0105 of the Environmental Conservation Law, begins with the statement that

“It is the policy of the state that the primary principle in managing the state’s marine fishery resource is to maintain the long-term health and abundance of marine fisheries resources and their habitats, and to ensure that the resources are sustained in usable abundance and diversity for future generations.”
It sounds good in theory, but in practice, things often work out a lot differently.

It’s very easy to talk about creating a better world for the next generation, but the fact is that they’ll be exceedingly lucky to get a world that is even somewhat as pleasant as the one that our ancestors handed down to us.  Leaving something for future generations requires that folks impose a bit of discipline on themselves today, and self-discipline is something that most members of my “Baby Boom” generation just don’t quite understand. 

Even when they decide to take action, it’s often the wrong one.

Our politicians talk about cutting the deficit, but in the end, few reductions are made.  Money still flows to politicians’ pet projects, creating bills that tomorrow’s children must pay.

As CO2 rises to prehistoric levels, and worldwide temperatures rise in accord, one governor allegedly fires staffers who dare to speak of climate changing, while North Carolina law prevents coastal managers from basing their policies on the best available science about rising oceans.  Yet temperatures increase despite politicians’ denial, and the Outer Banks keep losing sand.  Mitch McConnell may rail against the “War on Coal,” but coal’s war on the future goes on.

So we shouldn’t be surprised when fisheries issues show the same pattern.

Today’s campaign to roll back federal fisheries measures is just one more example of self-indulgent Baby Boomers—the same folks, now considerably grayer, who coined the phrase “He who dies with the most toys, wins” a few decades ago—taking as much as they can for themselves, while letting their kids and their grandkids pick up the bill.

I suppose that it makes some twisted sense to cut the red snapper recovery off at the knees, when you don’t know if you’ll still be fishing—or even alive—when the stock’s fully recovered in 2032.

On the other hand, some of us older folks get it, and don’t want our legacy to be a mostly empty and overfished sea.  And I’m happy to note that a lot of the younger anglers are a lot more aware of the future than the generations who went before.

My friend John McMurray is a perfect example.  A light-tackle guide on western Long Island, he was rightfully bragging when his twin children—one girl and one boy—decked a pair of summer flounder a few years ago.  They were quality fish; as I recall, one went close to six pounds, and with the other just a bit smaller, the fish were almost certainly older than the four-year-old kids who engineered their demise.

But John did a bit more than just brag; photos of his kids and their fish went with him to Washington where, while testifying before a Senate committee on the need for strong fisheries laws, he held them up to illustrate just what successful fisheries management looked like—and who was getting a chance to reap its benefits.

I don’t understand why others don’t get it.  

There is someone I know—he’s much younger than me—who has a son who’s three or four years old.  The man dotes on the boy; when I see photos he puts up on Facebook of him on his boat with his son, I get flashbacks of how it was with my father and me, fifty and some years ago.

My father and I caught winter flounder; we caught them in the spring, in the summer and fall.  I’d be surprised if the son of the guy I’m describing has yet caught his first flounder, and the way the population’s collapsing, there’s a good chance that he never will.  Yet his father seems oblivious; so far, when flounder issues arise, he’s always opposed conservation.  On other fisheries issues, his position’s no different; he supports the greatest possible kill.

I have to admit that I can’t understand it.  Sure, short-term profits are fine (and the guy is an industry spokesman), but I can’t comprehend how someone who so obviously cherishes his son can so casually condemn him to a depleted and less diverse sea.

Because that’s what the debate’s all about.

Should we take as much as we can for ourselves, maximizing our harvest and profits, but leaving our issue with nothing but dregs?

For Gulf red snapper anglers, New England trawlers and “flexibility” supporters on every coast, the answer would seem to be yes.

And that answer is certainly wrong.

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