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Posted on Nov 11, 2008 in Top Shots
Live from the World Recreational Fishing Conference

I'm playing hooky this week - sort of. For three days, i'm attending a pretty amazing event -- the fifth World Recreational Fishing Conference. Held every three years, the WRFC brings together scientists, managers, policy makers and others from all over. This conference, the first held in the United States, has attracted almost 200 serioius players from 22 different countries to the International Game Fish Association HQ in Dania Beach, Florida.

I thought I'd offer some brief highlights from this heavy-duty, unique conference each of the three days, starting here.

The afternoon offered simultaneous 20-minute presentations going on in three different halls all afternoon. The morning was devoted to keynote speakers, one of whom really captivated the audience. Jim Martin, conservation director for Pure Fishing, relied on no PowerPoint presentation, but called upon his own long experience in fisheries management (years as chief of fisheries for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, for one thing), his commitment to conservation of marine resources and his passion as a "maniac angler" to drive home his point: Recreational angling is facing mammoth problems, but they're not insurmountable if we're aware of what we have to do.

Martin, speaking on challenges in recreational fisheries over the next 50 to 100 years, likened our major problems to Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark who suddenly finds himself trying to outrun a house-sized boulder trying to flatten him. Martin says recreational fisheries face four "boulders": population growth, climate change, the "endangered-species mentality" and animal-rights attitudes. The "endangered-species mentality" accounts for the threat of closing huge chunks of the ocean to sport fishing - by a public, says Martin, that really does care about the resource but is inclined to accept the simplistic knee-jerk reaction (put forth by some environmental groups and fisheries managers) that closing off the ocean reduces pressure on the resource - which it does, but at what cost? There are alternatives. And Martin worries about the spread beyond parts of Europe of animal-rights groups who insist that any catch-and-release fishing is cruel and must be made illegal.

Martin warned that rethinking old paradigms (e.g. simply recreational vs. commercial fishermen) won't work. Good science and effective communication are bedrocks of what we must do. "Economics always trumps science," he acknowledges, "and politics trumps both. But science can change economics and politics." That's the challenge for those in the recreational-fishing community in decades to come.

Among other sessions, a couple of them threw into question the use of venting as a means to reduce release mortality of deep-water (depending upon species, 60 to 120 feet or more) game fish with swim bladders such as grouper and snapper. One large, recent study from Western Australia showed that fish lowered - not to deep bottom but just down 30 to 50 feet - and then released survive far better than those which are vented. Makes sense since fish needn't be lowered far to encounter much greater pressure than at the surface which quickly "deflates" swim bladders and allows them to swim back to their benthic habitat.

Venting on the other hand may not be done correctly and, even if it is, clearly leaves a hole in the fish and a site for infection. It seems unfortunate that Gulf of Mexico anglers couldn't be required to employ any of several simple means to lower grouper for release rather than requiring them to be vented, as is now the case. Perhaps on the conference's second day, I'll have a chance to ask a management official why this isn't the case.