May 16, 2011
Shooting the messenger is an old sport.
But I hope you'll hold your fire as I bring you a fresh warning that the No-Fishing Gang is coming your way with more sneak attacks.
A small coterie of determined but badly misled (in our view) quasi-biologists is launching a new round of attempts to ban all fishing, whether a problem or not, in large areas off our coasts.
Cleverly, as usual, the total-no-take crowd lumps together large industrial catches with small recreational usages and then campaigns to ban both. Recreational fishing may be just 5 percent of catches or so, but the “marine reserves” of today's variety seek to ban everyone. No thought is given to the idea of preserving small general public catches.
A new closure plan is called “Islands in the Stream,” of all things, a title that would have made angler Ernest Hemingway gag in disbelief.
Watch for dates of conferences and hearings all through the year as the marine reserves are pushed, and pushed again.
It's crucial that anglers and sportfishing conservation groups appear and speak up, or we'll face more ridiculous lockouts.
Our lack of grassroots power led to the recent total fishing ban in a large part of arguably the best fishing waters in Florida.
With no justification or hard evidence, officials mesmerized by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary agreed to ban even family-level fishing in the entire western half of the Dry Tortugas National Park.
This absurdity never would have happened, in our opinion, if the angling public had stood tall and vociferous.
But not so many anglers make the long trip to the Tortugas Park, so the public mostly sat by while their Tortugas dream trips were deep-sixed. (If you've been fantasizing about jigging off Loggerhead Key, forget it, courtesy of the Sanctuary.)
By contrast, a plan to ban all fishing in a large area off nearby Key Largo was hooted out of the room a decade ago and hasn't been heard since.
On a hopeful note, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission indicated that even though it was going along with the Tortugas closure, the commission wants no more of the blanket fishing bans.
Federal areas are more vulnerable to the specious lockouts, partly because it's difficult to muster the angling troops concerning offshore spots with light activity. (Of course, that's the point, the non-commercial effort is very modest, so why, pray, ban it?)
Now if a total ban is justified, we'll be first to endorse it.
But, as we've said many times, what works best in an overfished area is to prohibit commercial activity and limit citizens, all equally, to whatever modest catches are necessary.
Officials don't have far to look for a perfect example of how this policy has worked wonders for decades. It's the vast and bountiful Everglades National Park. Commercial fishing, no. Non-commercial fishing, yes.
Let's give officials a strong earful. Derail the Total-No-Take train. Your voice is needed badly.