Friday, January 1, 2016


Ocean planning is a hot topic these days, with both state and federal agencies looking at how sections of ocean might best be used.

Unfortunately, it’s also one of those hot-button topics that draws knee-jerk reactions from some in the angling community, who immediately oppose the notion without first taking the time to understand it at all.

This was recently brought to my attention by a post entitled “Our Right to Fish Is at Risk” on a website called The Activist Angler

The post is an unfocused screed that throws such diverse issues as no-take reserves, ocean planning, catch-share programs, freshwater invasive species controls and private lake associations’ prohibitions into a single pot, then tries to sell them as a great conspiracy to abolish angling. It includes the usual unreasoned attack on the conservation community, with the author imagining that

“those who dislike recreational fishing or, at best, are indifferent to it, are using their White House alliances to push for massive federal control of public waters..
“[T]hose pushing an anti-fishing agenda are preservationists who believe in ‘look but don’t touch.’  They assert that humans live apart from nature, rather than as a part of it…
“Consequently, the big picture is that a concerted effort is underway to deny us access to a public resource, and, in so doing, to deny and destroy a significant portion of our history, culture and economy—not to mention our right to enjoy a day on the water with friends and family…”
It’s nothing that we haven’t heard before, although tossing catch shares in with freshwater invasives, and suggesting that they’re all a part of the same sinister environmentalists’ plot, may be a new high in angling-related paranoia. 

The writer appears to be a pond fisherman, and apparently a pretty good one.  He may fish salt water from time to time—that’s not completely clear—but as a “Senior Writer” for Bass Anglers Sportsmen’s Society publications, and the author on a book on freshwater bass fishing, his expertise seems to be tilted heavily toward pulling small fish out of enclosed waters, and not to ocean issues.

However, a lack of day-to-day familiarity apparently doesn’t stop him from writing on marine matters.  As he says of himself,

“[I]t was my coverage of the federal Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force that sparked a firestorm of controversy.  Although I did not say that President Obama was considering a ban on recreational angling, as some disreputable sources proclaimed, I did say that the task force posed a threat to public access to public waters, not only for our oceans, coastal waters, and Great Lakes, but inland fisheries as well.”
What he doesn’t say is that his coverage of the matter, which appeared on the ESPN website, and the resultant “firestorm of controversy” that ensued, was pretty well disclaimed by the rational angling community, including ESPN, which noted, in part,

“ inadvertently contributed to a flare-up Tuesday when we posted the latest article in a series of stories on President Barak Obama’s newly created Ocean Policy Task Force…Regrettably, we made several errors in the editing and presentation of this installment…
“[W]hile our series overall has examined several sides of this topic, this particular column was not properly balanced and failed to represent contrary points of view…
“’[G]iven the nature of this task force and the potential impact on all fishermen, this was an appropriate topic to address for our audience.  We take seriously the tenets of journalism that require we take an unbiased approach, and when we make mistakes in the presentation of a story or a column, it is our responsibility to admit them…”
The unjustified “firestorm” happened five years ago, but “The Activist Angler” has apparently not learned from the experience.  

He’s still issuing the same sort of “they’re out to get us” rants.  As a quick perusal of his site will show, that’s probably because, instead of spending much of his time out on salt water learning the issues for himself, he gets his information second hand, relying on press releases from industry-related organizations that have their own axes to grind.

An active salt water angler, who actually takes the time to reason things out, will see ocean planning in a very different light.

Certainly, ocean planning is not the same thing as establishing marine reserves.  While it’s not impossible that marine reserves might be established under such a program, having a comprehensive planning process in place actually makes it more likely that any reserves that are established will not be placed in areas that are extremely important to fishermen, whether recreational or commercial. 

That’s because a comprehensive ocean plan will look at all existing and potential uses for a region, and then consider the needs of all stakeholders before deciding which uses are compatible with a given section of sea.  Under such a transparent program, both recreational and commercial fishermen would be able to identify areas important to them, and present their case for why closing such areas would be inappropriate.

Perhaps more important in the long run, such fishermen would also be able to make their case as to why such areas should not be opened to other activities, such as resource extraction or perhaps the building of an offshore LNG terminal, that would degrade the habitat or make them inaccessible to anglers. 

And yes, ocean planning really does work that way. 

Here in New York, I was very involved with the process when the Department of State updated its coastal zone management program.  I traveled to fishing clubs bearing an array of charts, marking off the spots that anglers deemed important, and did not want disturbed.  Other folks went to dive clubs, or spoke with commercial fishermen and other users to identify areas important to the various stakeholder groups, which were later incorporated into the management plan.

On a practical level, we’ve seen the state reject two LNG terminals, one planned for the eastern end of Long Island Sound and one for the approaches to New York harbor, because it recognized that such terminals, along with their attendant infrastructure, were not appropriate for the region.  

Far from threatening anglers, such actions assured that we would be able to freely access our waters and would not see important hard-bottom habitat disturbed.

Off Rhode Island, the first wind farm on the Atlantic Coast is being constructed with very little controversy, or threat to fishermen, due to an effective ocean planning process.  As noted in Slate,

“…Rhode Island zoned the ocean waters under its control, and designated this area as a renewable-energy zone.  While support for the plan wasn’t unanimous, the fact that the community effectively chose the spot”
minimized opposition to the project.

Yet ocean planning doesn’t need to address such great concerns as energy production.  Even squabbles about who gets to fish where falls under its control.  When New Jersey recently limited commercial fishermen’s ability to compete with anglers on two of the state’s artificial reefs, and completely banned them from fishing another reef under construction, it was an example of ocean planning in action.  

So was New York’s adoption of a law prohibiting menhaden reduction vessels from fishing in most of the waters on its side of Long Island Sound.

It’s impossible to argue that either of those actions hurt recreational fishermen, or that recreational fishermen should fight the sort of ocean planning that made such actions possible.  Yet if a comprehensive ocean planning policy had been in place early enough, it’s very possible that neither action would have been necessary.

For good ocean planning can be of great benefit to salt water anglers.  The key is, indeed, becoming “activist” anglers and showing up at the meetings when shareholder input is sought.  

But before anyone becomes an “activist,” they need to get a firm grip on the issues and know what they’re talking about.

1 comment:

  1. Management does not equate to closure - though the Activist Angler / RFA types would have fishermen believe so. These "slippery slopers" should take a fishing trip to Los Roques, Venezuela and see what a fishery looks like where about half of the archipelago's national park is off limits to any type of fishing. The remaining "fishing allowed" areas benefit greatly from these un-pressured off limit areas.