Sunday, July 12, 2015


When I was a boy, I’d often get involved in pickup baseball games.

They were pretty casual affairs, and it was just about unheard-of to have two nine-person teams.  More often, there’d be maybe four of us—five on a good day—to play all the positions and man both of the teams.  That meant that each team would have a pitcher and a catcher, and maybe one guy in the field, which worked pretty well as far as it went because we usually played in somebody’s back yard that was all hills and stones that pretty well assured that the ball wouldn’t go far.

It got a little harder when it was time to bat, because tight quarters pretty well guaranteed that hits would mostly be singles (don’t even think of home runs between stone walls and rock cliffs), which meant that teams lacked enough batters to populate the bases and still swing at the ball.

Thus we relied on “imaginary men.”

An “imaginary man” was the guy left on third when you had to leave the base for an at-bat.  He ran just as fast as the batter, so if you got a hit, your imaginary baserunner would move up one base, too.

It was a pretty good system for some kids playing ball.  But when adults invoke imaginary men to scare folks into taking political action, it’s not good anymore.  It should lead to embarrassment, if not outright shame.

I started thinking about that a few days ago, when I read anarticle on the Business Wire website touting the Bass Anglers SportsmenSociety’s new program, “Bass Anglers for Saltwater Conservation.”  I’ve written about the program before; it’s a cynical effort to abuse freshwater bass fishermen’s trust, convince them to get involved in saltwater fisheries issues that they know little or nothing about, and urge their elected representatives to weaken America’s fisheries laws.  

But what caught my eye in the Business Wire piece was the line

“The primary threat to the future of saltwater fishing is lack of access to thriving fish stocks.  One example of this is the current situation with red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.  Once considered one of the most prized fish in the Gulf, red snapper’s federal season was a mere 10 days in 2015, despite the stock’s population nearing its highest level in decades.  Those who oppose recreational fishing are driving situations exactly like that of red snapper throughout America’s oceans, and may soon bring the battle to freshwater fisheries… [emphasis added]”
Now, there is enough wrong with that paragraph to support an entire blog (I’ve pretty well decided that one day it will), but for this discussion, concentrate on the last words:  “those who oppose recreational fishing…and may soon bring the battle [against such fishing] to freshwater fisheries.”

Because the first question we have to ask is just who those people “who oppose recreational fishing” are.  And the answer to such question is clear.

They’re the imaginary men.

They don’t really exist, but folks in the public relations and political fields learned long ago that nothing brings people together better than a threat from outside, and that if no threat exists, it pays to create one.  

The more that you can keep folks’ attention focused on a supposed outside threat, the less likely they are to notice your malfeasance at home.

On the world scale, we can see this in Venezuela today, where the late President Chavez and his current successors demonized the United States, and continue to do so, in order to keep the population looking fearfully north instead of keeping close tabs on bad acts in Caracas.

Thirty-something years ago, an abusive junta in Argentina picked a fight with Great Britain over the Falklands—or, should I say, the Islas Malvinas—starting a war that they were fated to lose while stirring up patriotic fervor that would hopefully cause folks to forget that their neighbors were disappearing in the dark of night.

Here in America we see the same thing, as advocates for various causes warn, in bright purple prose, that rights are threatened by persons named or by persons unknown.  The only hope, we are told, is to write, vote and/or donate in the prescribed way, without thinking or questioning why.

Because, if we don’t, the imaginary men are likely to win, and where—tell me!—where would we ever be then…?

It’s a time-tested ploy that’s been used by politicians, magicians and three-card monte dealers since time began:  Get people excited, get them focused, watching one of your hands—and hope that they focus so hard that they don’t see what you do with the other.

Because yes, there are folks such as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals who would like to see sportfishing cease, but there are folks who see UFOs, too.  In the end, both have about the same impact on politics.  I’ve yet to see PETA at a management hearing.

The folks who dreamed up Bass Anglers for Saltwater Conservation needed to create a far more frightening bogeyman.

At one time, they targeted various conservation organizations who worked to restore salt water fisheries, labeling them “extreme environmentalists” and such.

“Anti-fishing groups and radical environmental interests are pushing an agenda on marine fisheries issues affecting America’s saltwater anglers.  At the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), we’re pushing back to protect your right to fish!”
But that tack didn’t bear much fruit.  Most anglers are sympathetic to the need to conserve fish stocks, although they’re often unhappy when more restrictions are imposed on their favorite fishery.  In the Gulf of Mexico, which the red snapper issue has probably made ground zero in the anglers vs. environmentalists faceoff, the enviros end up looking pretty good after BP shut down fisheries for months—and perhaps impaired them for decades—after its Deepwater Horizon well blew.

And anyway, the conservation groups trying to protect salt water fish were focusing on the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act.  Not only does Magnuson-Stevens only address salt water fisheries, and have no impact on fresh water fisheries at all (except for Pacific salmon and some anadromous herrings), but the sort of management Magnuson requires—size limits, bag limits and seasons that will restore overfished stocks and maintain them at healthy levels—is just the sort of thing that freshwater fishermen widely endorse.

Hard to find a boogeyman there…

A lot of the angling groups also like to point fingers at the commercial sector, but in this case, they’re not convenient villains either.  

For one, there is no commercial fishery for largemouth, smallmouth or the other freshwater bass anywhere in the United States.  For another, while people such as the New England trawlers or North Carolina gillnetters still give commercials a bad name, over the last decade or so, a lot of operations have cleaned up their act and embraced conservation.

The Alaska commercial fisheries are probably the best example, but it’s hard not to point out that down in the Gulf, in the red snapper fishery (sorry to bring that one up again, but then, in the end, it’s what’s driving all this) the commercial sector hasn’toverfished its quota since 2007, although it did successfully bring a lawsuitagainst the National Marine Fisheries Service to compel it to keep therecreational sector from exceeding its quota.

So when the recreational fishing industry and the “anglers’ rights” groups, who want to weaken federal fisheries laws, were looking for someone to scare freshwater bass fishermen into supporting their ignoble cause, none of their usual bad guys would do.

If they weren’t careful, they might be discerned to be “bad guys” themselves. 

So they invented imaginary men to get the bass guys’ attention, imaginary men of unknown identity or description, whose sole goal in life is to shut down recreational salt water fisheries, and then, maybe, turn their gaze on the fresh waters, too.

Like trolls or ogres or Medusa’s gaze, the imaginary men were far more frightening than anything that exists in the real world, frightening enough to really scare the bass guys and convince them to help weaken federal fisheries law.

Because if the bass fishermen ever lost focus on the imaginary, and paid attention to what was really going on, they’d want no part of that effort at all.

1 comment:

  1. It's enjoyable to learn more and more from your blog. Thanks for sharing.