This week’s article is not intended to be political in it’s nature, but unintentionally, it may drift that way. So please — pay that drift no mind. Stay focused on those small and not-so-small nautical creatures that have thrilled our fishing exploits on warm summer days and built our dreams on cold winter nights.
The basic premise is simple and complete; the conservation and perpetuation of all the species in the marine environments that inhabit the waters of the United States belong to us. We, primarily if we fish either commercially or recreationally, are the ultimate stakeholders of the resource.
That’s really not new news, is it? We’ve gotten used to getting a lot of help from the government. There are state laws and federal laws governing everything from when you can take a species, where you can fish for them, how big or small they can be to keep, what licenses and permits you are required to obtain to fish, what equipment you are required to have, and yada, yada, yada.
But, witnessed by a flood of federal announcement bulletins these past few weeks, get ready for a lot more, with more intensity and scope. Compliments of the current Beltway Gang, as they ramp up the control of your sport paralleling some of their recent private sector intrusions.
But government moves, normally, to fill a void. Acting in behest of the people they represent, they regulate when the actions taken by “the people” don’t work or fall short of minimum requirements.
So, do we really need more regulation and finite control on recreational fishing here in the “Good ‘ole USA”? Do we need more agencies, studies, closures, protected areas, rules, regulations, and restrictions?
I say no, in a general sense, and I’m no more than echoing the thoughts of leading editors and publishers in this industry, maintaining a keen sense about the trends and indicators regarding those who go to sport with rod and reel.
They cite solid facts that the conservation climate in recreational fishing is undergoing dramatic changes. Check out the number of fishing tournaments that have gone catch and release (or at least limited catch). How about the outreach programs by fishing clubs and extension agents that teach youngsters about survival techniques for released fish, or the now widespread use of circle hooks — much beyond the governmental requirements — that has been a major advance toward the survival of released species.
Above all the major influence of the young having been raised and educated with a heightened sense of environmental importance, have a day-to-day positive impact on their elders and to the angling community in general. As a singular charter fishing operator, it certainly is recognized that my scope on the changing atmosphere is narrow but discernment of trends is offered as a bit broader, the latter earned after 17 years and some 4000 charter trips.
The days of yesteryear are long gone. I can recall vividly those winter charter trips of “condo commandos,” where unless we had sheepshead overflowing the cooler, the trip was deemed as passable but not super.
I remember asking the commandos time and time again, “You guys gonna eat all these fish?” and being reassured in terms of, “you betcha!”
My naivety was squelched one trip in early spring just before the commandos headed home to the Heartland, when I heard them discussing the chores that had to be accomplished before they left.
“Man, I’ve got to remember to clean out the freezer. We can’t leave all those frozen sheepshead in the fridge all summer. Suppose we have a power failure.”
I remember turning off the engine and asking them if they all had the same problem. There were a lot on nods. The program for the following year would be enough fish per angler for a couple of meals per trip. If that didn’t work for them, I’d help them arrange another charter. They all came back. Or the day the family came aboard with a huge 72-quart cooler that was totally empty. Inquiring as to it’s intended use, they asserted that this was for the filets that we most certainly would have after our little half-day backwater fishing trip.
People would measure the success of a fishing trip, not on the enjoyment of the sport and the day, but on the volume of the catch. But that attitude has definitely dramatically changed. Today it’s almost the norm that folks will defer to catch and release or limit the catch to enough filets for a lunch or dinner. And sometimes it’s even better than that.
A couple of weeks back we had a young family on the boat with a gaggle of youngsters. Dad announced that they’d love to have some fresh fish for a dinner at a local restaurant, but each of the kids had control of their own catch. They could keep or release. As it happened, the smallest girl was the high hook on the trip, and her choice was to release, much to the pain of her dad who saw dinner swim away time after time. But he lived to his promise of individual choice. Kind of neat, huh?
Responsibility for sustaining a viable marine resource belongs to each of us every time we’re on the water. It’s a matter of stepping up to the plate and doing the right thing even when no one’s checking. T’s speaking up when you see someone else disregarding those right things, no matter what the price. Government can hold on smothering our sport with more regulatory blankets, but the folks with the rods and reels can do it.
Capt. Bill Walsh owns an established Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a current U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.