March 01, 2011
In the face
of so much gloom and doom talk about fisheries, there is at least one species that's doing just fine, thank you.
Not even the strange and suspect science of our federal fish managers can dispute a prevailing belief that the cobes are thriving better than in many years.
And yet (better hold onto your seat) this outstanding success story is proposed to have a bitter turn for the worse.
The beleaguered National Marine Fisheries Service and its South Atlantic Fishery Management Council proposes to reduce the cobia bag limit from two per person to one per boat.
An alternative possibility would be to close all cobia fishing during part of the year.
Good grief, is this any way to treat a winner?
The changes would be a six-fold reduction for, say, three anglers having a good but not terribly unusual day catching two each, for a total of six. Instead, they'd get one for the entire vessel.
You'd think that a reduction this drastic would have to be based on a demonstrated near-collapse of the cobia population. You'd think wrong.
“They're thick as fleas,” exclaimed longtime Capt. Rob Harris in Key West. We see the same abundance elsewhere, especially compared to the ‘80s, when fishers would hammer the stocks relentlessly.
Now, there's no assessment claiming a cobia problem.
Then why oh why?
As they've done with other fish, such as red snapper, the feds claim that amendments to the Magnuson Act in 2006 require them to quickly establish new catch limits across the board for all fish possibly overfished.
The federal staffers take that to mean they must cut like a runaway hedge clipper instead of taking common sense steps as stocks grow and prosper.
In the case of cobia, we've seen the federal bag limit and size minimum changed significantly over the past years, prompting a continuing trend that should be celebrated rather than bemoaned.
Also, it's nonsensical in our view to put recreational limits on boats rather than persons. Historically, for good reason, recreational fishing is (with rare exceptions) managed on a per-citizen level, not according to boatload.
Meanwhile, NOAA, NMFS/Councils also are confronting the fishing world with a raft of additional proposals that are likely to affect angling in major ways. See this issue's On the Conservation Front and FloridaSportsman.com for more info.
Council discussion of the cobia proposal is scheduled for April.
Enjoy that cobe while you can.