Goals, Please

Whatcha think, anglers? What should fisheries management goals be for the new year and beyond?

As final casts are reeled in for ’04, let’s look ahead. Your input is needed, and always welcome. Let’s focus on key steps desired in the unending conservation campaigns.

Your thoughts, we suspect, are much like ours. Here’s a quick rundown on key issues and how we view them:

No-Fishing Zones. Known as Marine Protected Areas, marine reserves or by some other benign-sounding label, these zones refer to proposed large areas of ocean where even family-level, personal-use angling would be banned even when large-scale industrial catches are the reasons for perceived depletions.

Many of us believe that some of the worst imaginable junk science and questionable data are being used to promote the lockouts. The desired fish population levels can be achieved through many different traditional measures. The No-Fishing advocates ignore dozens of current success stories.

Right to Fish Act. This proposed bill would prohibit agencies from banning recreational fishing when it is not shown to be a problem, or when other standard regulations can protect fish stocks. Although basically a federal proposal, the right-to-fish principles should be enacted on a state basis as well. Some other states, in fact, already have done so.

Common Sense Manatee Laws. Although the worst of the unneeded, excessive off-plane slow zones promoted in the name of manatee protection have been rejected and discredited, the over-zealous manatee extremists are continuing their campaign to impede anglers and boaters over vast stretches of water, many where none of the animals frequent.

Contrary to Save the Manatee Club claims, it’s now established that manatee populations have been rising for a quarter-century, to new highs in modern times.

Adjust Regulations. Tighten limits on some recreational fishing and consider eliminating sales of vulnerable inshore fish such as flounder, cobia, tripletail and pompano. We must continually evaluate the best use of a fish from a socio-economic basis and fairness to all citizens.

Close the unintended loophole that has allowed large-scale gill netting of Spanish mackerel with non-traditional “cast nets” that in reality entangle their catch.

Enlarge Hatchery Programs. Florida’s well-run, but much too small, redfish hatchery is moving into a dormant year while Texas and many other areas are producing many millions of fish, increasing stocks and providing outstanding catch rates for the public. We should do as well.

Remove Shore Exemption. Resident shore fishermen were given a free ride from buying a fishing license in order to get the bill passed a dozen years ago. Most folks agree the exemption should go, but state officials drag their feet. Millions of dollars are lost, including federal matching funds going to other states.

Foster Our Fishing Heritage. By this, we refer not to the heritage of slaughtering tons of fish for the market, but to the conservation ethic of Teddy Roosevelt and others who believe that wildlife should be taken only with respect and care, while maintaining populations at high and sustainable levels.