The Wrong Special People

Certain special people may exceed the bag limits.

As long as they sell the fish, that is.

That, in essence, is the fundamental premise of our federal saltwater fisheries management.

The commercial show always must go on, at whatever cost to the average Joe and general public.

This bizarre commitment to selling a public resource in large quantities, while typical families can take very few, or none, forms the unspoken mantra of the National Marine Fisheries Service and its commercially influenced regional councils.

Never mind that family-level anglers outnumber commercial takers by more than 1000 to 1. And never mind that non-commercial angling supports far more jobs and is better for the economy, still providing food.

What counts among the feds is maintaining huge hauls by the profit seekers.

The dire consequences of this devotion to selling the public’s fish are now apparent more than ever in pending management plans for grouper. (See coverage in this issue.)

Key federal managers, including many of their sheepish appointees to councils, actually want to limit non-commercial catches to levels so low that thousands of folks will throw up their hands in disgust and give up fishing. That would be a severe blow to an already suffering economy, not to mention being outrageously unfair to the public.

The basic problem is the underlying premise, among saltwater rulemakers, that we must maintain “historic” percentages of big-scale market catches regardless of what it means to average citizens.

Until we get over that mindset (fueled by egregious conflicts of interest) we have no real chance.

Eventually, I’m sure, we’ll mature beyond this self-serving greediness, as wildlife managers did in fresh water and the woods. But it may take another generation, and that’s such a shame.

Where are our elected officials? Not all of them are beholden to commercial lobbyists. We must do a better job of nurturing the concept of equal fishing for all.

Start with a firm requirement that all citizens be allowed equal limits, as strict as they need to be in order to provide solid sustainable populations.

Then, and only then, allow extra takes by the commercial few. If commercialization is not feasible (as with deer, snook, bass and a host of other wild animals) so be it.

But never think commercial “harvests” (a word we gag over) are the first priority.

The only special people we respect are the citizens.