Thursday, May 14, 2015
SADLY, HE WAS NEARLY RIGHT
I read a news article during the week.
It came out in something called Trade Only Today, and described how Bill Shedd, President and CEO of the American Fishing Tackle Company (better known as AFTCO, the folks who make the aluminum butts and roller guides that grace our trolling rods) received an award from the Center for Coastal Conservation, for being a leader in conservation advocacy.
I never met Mr. Shedd, nor can I set forth his conservation credentials. However, I’m very familiar with the Center, and can state, without qualification, that its contributions to marine conservation fully equal the contributions that the tobacco folks made to curing lung cancer.
Even as you read this blog, the Center for Coastal Conservation is working very hard to make H.R. 1335, a bill that is for all practical purposes a twin of former Rep. Doc Hastings’ “Empty Oceans Act,” the law of the land.
It issued a celebratory press release when Empty Oceans II was reported out of Committee in April, and is now looking forward to a time when science-based catch limits, a prompt end to overfishing and the timely rebuilding of overfished stocks become artifacts of the past, compromising the public interest so that its members can partake of what the tobacco dealers might have called “socio-economic benefits.”
So when I saw the piece in the news, I read a bit farther, to see just what Mr. Shedd did to further the Center’s somewhat unique notion of conservation.
The article didn’t say just what those efforts were, but Mr. Shedd’s words, reported in the article, provided a bit of enlightenment.
“Major fisheries conservation efforts can be traced back to the boating and fishing communities, including gill net bans that revived fish stocks, the building of saltwater hatcheries and tens of thousands of artificial reefs, the striped bass conservation effort and the more than $1 billion that the fishing and boating community spends every year through its excise taxes and license fees that goes to states that help their fisheries resource issues…”
His comments are right, as far as they go, although they leave a bit too much unsaid.
He’s quick to point out how anglers spearheaded gill net bans, and he could have added pot bans and trawl bans in some places, too. But there’s a funny thing about all those bans; when you look at them closely you realize that the anglers he mentioned have had great success in conserving other folks’ fish, but fight efforts to conserve their own.
Whether we’re talking about northeastern black sea bass or Florida groundfish, national angling groups are far more likely to favor commercial restrictions than having their own catch reduced. The Center for Coastal Conservation epitomizes that attitude when it responded to recreational overharvest of red snapper, and resultant federal restrictions in the Gulf of Mexico by seeking a law that would allow the Gulf states, rather than NMFS, to manage that resource—and let anglers kill even more fish.
That doesn’t sound like “coastal conservation” to me…
But it does help to explain why, as Mr. Shedd notes, anglers
“are looked upon as takers of the resource—the negative guys toward the resource”
down in Washington, D.C.
A few of the other “conservation efforts” are even more dubious. Hatcheries, for example, don’t promote conservation at all. They are its very antithesis, and represent a profound failure of fisheries management. Instead of encouraging the use of disciplined, science-based management measures to maintain healthy, naturally-reproducing stocks of fish, they encourage irresponsible use of our fish stocks with the promise that any overfishing will be remedied not through harvest constraints, but by dumping yet another load of man-made fish into the bay.
Once again, they represent the sort of activity that only the Center could call conservation…
Yet behind all of the excessive rhetoric lies a kernel of truth.
Most anglers instinctively understand and support conservation efforts.
The “striped bass conservation effort” Mr. Shedd referred to is certainly real. I saw it in action back in the ‘80s, when the stock first collapsed, and again in ’95 when, throughout the northeast (defined as north of New Jersey), anglers rallied to oppose increasing the recreational kill. Back then, they lost the fight, as the tackle shops and for-hire boats demanded the “socio-economic benefits” that a big kill could, for a time, produce.
And I saw it again in the last few years, when a wave of concern that began in New England swept down the striper coast as the bass population waned, igniting a grassroots movement that filled hearing rooms and flooded the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission with letters, and convinced fisheries managers throughout the northeast (or at least, once again, north of New Jersey) to take needed action, reduce fishing mortality and cut our own bag limit in half in order to halt the decline.
That was real coastal conservation, not of the Center kind, that merely seeks to reduce other folks’ kill, but the kind of conservation that comes from the heart and a desire to do right by the resource, even if it means taking fewer fish home yourself.
It’s the kind of conservation that I hear about at fishing club meetings, when fellow anglers—folks who keep their boats in the slips next to mine—ask representatives of New York’s Marine Bureau why they don’t shut down the winter flounder season to help restore the fishery, instead of allowing anglers, as well as commercials, to pick the bones of the stock.
It’s the kind of conservation that my father taught me when I was a boy, and the sort that we should be teaching the kids today, the kind of conservation that begins and ends with respect for the fish, and for fishermen yet to be born.
I have learned, over the years, that it’s the sort of conservation that grows out of time on the water, out of red, salt-burned eyes and tanned hands traced with scars earned in pursuit of the wild, living beauty that only an angler can know.
It’s the sort of conservation that puts the fish first, regardless of personal hardship.
And yes, Mr. Shedd, such notions of conservation are real.
They live in our hearts, on the edge of the canyons and on night-shrouded beaches and wave-blasted shores. But you’ll not find them close to the Center, where they’re just words blown apart by the wind.