Sunday, March 12, 2017

TAKING THINGS A LITTLE TOO PERSONALLY

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post for the Marine Fish Conservation Network.  The thrust of the piece was that legislators who introduce bills to circumvent management efforts are doing both fish and fishermen a disservice.

The blog ended up on Facebook.  It drew a comment from one angler who seemed to disagree with the premise of the piece, writing

“We have been pushed around enough by limits for years we get less and less each year when does it stop”.
The commenting angler seemed to take regulations as a personal affront, a matter of a government bureaucracy intentionally “push[ing] around” anglers and arbitrarily reducing catch limits, rather than seeing them for what they really are—an effort by fisheries managers to prevent overharvest, so that anglers will have a better chance of catching something when they venture out into the water.

Such sentiments are nothing new, nor are they limited to the fishermen themselves.  A 2009 article by Karen Wall, published in The Fisherman, is subtitled

“NOAA finally reveals its punitive side with a closure that could cripple a struggling industry [emphasis added]”
suggesting that, in closing the black sea bass fishery after estimates of excessive harvest earlier in the year, the agency was acting to punish anglers and related industries, rather than merely trying to conserve the black sea bass resource.  

The same article quotes Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and the late Congressman Frank Adler (D-NJ) declaring that

“to continue this assault on recreational fisheries…is not acceptable.  [emphasis added]”
Apparently, allowing fishermen to overfish would have been completely acceptable, and would not have constituted an “assault” on the black sea bass resource…

Fisheries regulators aren’t the only people viewed as threats by the paranoid wing of the angling community.  In another article in The Fisherman, this one published last January, the author whines

“that’s pretty much how the law works; NOAA Fisheries holds all the cards, with the environmental non-governmental organizations (they call ‘em ENGO’s) set to legally close down the entire game anytime the fishermen get dealt a kind hand.”
Again, an unreasoning sense of persecution distorted reality almost past recognition.  The only way an ENGO can “legally close down” a fishery is if the fishermen were doing something illegal, which almost always translates into harvesting fish at unsustainable levels. 

What the writer terms “get[ting] dealt a kind hand” the rest of the world sees as “overfishing.”

And then there is the other aspect of taking fisheries regulations personally—the tendency to look at how a particular person or industry might be affected by regulations, and a failure to consider how the fish that such person or industry might depend on will be affected by a lack of regulation.

After news of a pending 30% cutback in the summer flounder catch limit spread through the angling community late last year, CBS News reported fishing industry representatives making comments such as

“A lot of boats have been put out of business already and more to follow if these rules go into effect,”
“Fluke are the bread and butter on Long Island, so we really can’t take anymore [sic] restrictions,”
and
“It can’t happen.  It’ll cripple the industry, and it affects everybody in the industry.  It affects all the tackle shops.  It affects tourism.”

Furthermore, unless restrictions very like those proposed are put in place, they warn that the stock could become overfished as soon as this year, which would require that a rebuilding plan, and even more restrictive regulations, be put in place.

If fluke become more and more difficult to find, will anglers still bother to chase them?  While it can certainly get frustrating when you catch nothing but undersized fish, it’s far worse to catch nothing at all.

And if the summer flounder population continues to decline, nothing is exactly what more and more anglers will be putting in the boat.  Anyone who believes that a dearth of fish won’t cripple the industry as badly—or worse—than increased regulation hasn’t been paying much attention to what has gone on in recent years.

Here on Long Island, we've lost our once-booming winter flounder fishery.  We lost the Coxe's Ledge party boat fishery for summer cod.  We lost the spring pollock run at Block Island and the winter whiting run in New York bight.  

Tautog is a mere shadow of what it once was, weakfish are scarce and the spring mackerel run, which once flooded our waters, now exists only in memory.

Losing all of those fisheries did real harm to anglers and the businesses that serve them, afloat and ashore.

So maybe, instead of worrying about how much short-term inconvenience regulations might cause, fishermen and the fishing industry might be better off worrying about how a lack of regulations affect the fish.

Because without the fish, fishing is not any fun.

Yet, despite that obvious truth, people continue to view regulations needed to conserve and maintain sustainable fish populations as personal attacks on their freedom and their economic well-being.  Perhaps the most rational comment on such attitudes was recently published on the Florida website FlaglerLive.com, which addressed an unpopular decision not to open the South Atlantic red snapper season in 2017.

“Federal regulation isn’t a popularity contest…
“There’s no question that [for-hire] boaters would feel an economic impact [because of the continued red snapper closure].  But that impact is a matter of now or later.  If the red snapper is being overfished, it will crash.  If it does (as other species have), it will hurt [for-hire] boaters’ bottom lines (as many [for-hire] boaters have been bankrupted by other species’ crashes).  Protecting the red snapper isn’t just about protecting the red snapper.  It’s about protecting the future health of the fisheries that depend on the snapper.  [emphasis added]”
Take out the words “red snapper” and replace them with “summer flounder,” “winter flounder,” “gray triggerfish,” “cobia,” “tautog” or any other species, on any section of the coast, which is subject to controversial regulation, and the foregoing paragraph is no less true.

Thus, it is time for fishermen and the fishing industry to stop viewing needed regulations as some sort of personal attack, and to start viewing them as what they really are:  The only chance that their sport and their businesses will still be alive a decade or two from now.





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