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Posted on Apr 27, 2010 in Next Cast
Fishing Your Conscience

Throwing trash into the ocean. High-grading kingfish in a tournament. Fishing without a license. Keeping several fish over the limit.

I've been aboard vessels where anglers have attempted these illegal and/or unethical acts, and I've called them on it. Few things bother me more than fudging the rules on the water.

That may label me a "Pollyanna" or a naïve "do-gooder;" some may even stretch that to "holier than thou" or "hypocrite" by challenging my toe-the-line policy in other areas. But I would urge you not to attack the messenger.

I know we'd all like to go back to days when plentiful fish made for heavy creels and the concept of fish police seemed comical. But time doesn't backtrack nor does it freeze.

In 2010 angler numbers and fishing pressure do stress fisheries. If most anglers accept even a minor level of fudging, think how much extra damage we do as a group.

Are the rules always right? Probably not. Rulemakers are human. Does authority matter? In ordered society, I would suggest it truly does.

Who's to know or care? Well, you may not be caught, but your actions affect us all. So at the end of the day, we all care.

Other people do it, why shouldn't I? You remember your mother's answer to that: "If other people jump off a tall bridge... would you?"

I remember in a more idealistic time not so long ago calls going out to individuals to "do your part" for _________ (fill in the blank: the environment, the poor...). Yeah... idealistic, but if we fail to see our part in the whole, we succumb to the "tragedy of the commons," the theory that within a shared resource, there's little incentive for individuals to alter activities to benefit others. As our population grows exponentially, the tragedy plays out ever more quickly.

So, consider listening to your inner voice, the one that says a light shade of gray simply isn't white. In fact, why not challenge yourself to do more than just what's lawful?

I know a handful of guides who take their conservation ethic to a higher level; they create their own rules that are more stringent than what's required. In their small, individual way - whether or not it truly makes a difference - they're fishing their conscience.