Some of my friends in the conservation community are ecstatic over Obama’s nominee to run NMFS, Jane Lubchenko, and his pledge to make protecting fisheries and habitats a priority. Others are worried that with a democratic majority in Congress, the “enviros” will lock recreational fishermen out. Since I’ve spent much of my career fighting for access and to protect Essential Fish Habitat on local, state, federal and international levels–often partnering with environmental groups–many have asked my opinion about recreational fishing access and opportunities over the next four years.
In a nutshell, I think we will lose some freedoms, but enjoy healthier fisheries. Over-fishing laws will be strictly enforced; therefore it is doubly important to make sure that the recreational community fights for a share of the allotment on species such as fluke, snappers and groupers that reflects our enormous economic impact. My personal opinion is that some types of commercial fishing should go the way of market hunting, at least in those stressed fisheries where the public demand and benefit from recreational fishing greatly exceeds the benefits of commercial fishing. Striped bass, snappers and groupers are prime examples of species in need gamefish status. Just look at the benefits we reaped by making red drum a gamefish. But systems such as Individual Fishing Quotas and Dedicated Access Privileges, however well meaning and effective in some cases, may permanently vest commercial interests in fisheries such as the snapper/grouper complex that they should be permanently locked out of.
No-fishing zones within Marine Protected Areas will be implemented increasingly. Let’s hope that they really do make the fishing better outside the boundaries. We’ll also probably see more idle- and “pole-and-troll” only zones in places like Everglades National Park. These may consume precious time on the water, but where they’ve been implemented, e.g. the Mosquito Lagoon and Florida Keys, they’ve proved wildly popular. You just don’t have jet skis and sundry idiots burning the flat in front of you, and the seagrasses are so healthy the zones are fish magnets.
Ecosystem Based Management is a concept that promises better fishing if we curtail pollution and other unsustainable practices, including canal discharges, large-scale dredging projects to protect unsustainable coastal development, coastal armoring and other “sins.” It is management of the resource for the sake of the resource, with communities benefitting more greatly from the largesse of teeming estuary, for example. I also think we’ll won’t so often lose functional access to our favorite due to things like pollution, water mis-management and sundry Army Corps boondoggles. If Obama’s stimulus package includes funds for legitimate habitat restoration projects, we may gain more fishing spots and fishing days in degraded areas.
It’s important to see this bank and shoal of time as a time of change and opportunity. It’s never been more important to focus on things we agree upon amongst the rec fishing community and the environmental community, and to blur any such distinctions. We have huge opportunities to win on issues such as habitat protection and water-quality improvement. We must use our enormous potential political energy to foment those changes. As a good friend of mine, who is scarred and decorated veteran of fisheries management likes to say, you’re not a complete angler unless you’re engaged in protecting the places you love to fish.