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Posted on Oct 28, 2008 in Top Shots
Science of the Weird

The surging, astronomical leap in fuel prices has meant considerably less fishing effort. I mean -- no brainer, there, right?

Wrong. At least, according to federal fisheries statistics, recreational fishing trips in the Gulf of Mexico in July and August - when fuel prices were peaking at blistering levels and when marinas and charter ops around the Gulf were uniformly decrying the frightening decline in fishermen/effort - actually increased. In fact, the number of fishing trips into the Gulf reached their highest level since 2003 and the fourth highest level since 1981!

That led Bob Zales, a Panama City charter operator - and president of the National Association of Charter Boat Operators, to ask in an e-mail: "If you feel like everyone I have shown these numbers to, there's no way the numbers can come close to reality; start calling your media, start calling your congressmen and senators, your governors, your state resource directors, everyone you can. The madness of this data must stop."

Zales, in fairness, points out that the new Marine Recreational Initiative Program from NOAA Fisheries promises much-improved data. "The problem is that the new system will not be used for several years," he adds, "so we are stuck with the current data."

It's hard to argue with Zales with fisheries managers trying to tell us there's been more effort than ever - yet we all see charter boats tied up at the docks, some launch ramps practically deserted, empty tackle shops. And of course, more fishing effort will be interpreted to mean more fish - in this case, red snapper - caught. So once again, NMFS will likely estimate that anglers exceeded their quota and exact a further price.

"But I challenge anyone to show me where people have fished more this year than any recent year," Zales complains.

It's pretty discouraging and certainly reiterates the critical need to make improved data collection a priority. As Zales says, that's in the works - now that anglers are understanding they will be part of a federal system to have all of us registered, through licensing generally, including states which heretofore eschewed licenses.

A few entities/individuals continue to oppose registration but, as working stiffs in the fishing industry - like Zales - have begun to see, registration can lead to accurate information. And we need that for the sake of the industry and fish stocks.

Otherwise, chances are too likely we end up with more science of the weird, and that's no way to manage any fishery.

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