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Posted on Jun 21, 2007 in Top Shots
The Truth (Sometimes) Hurts

This just in: Commercial fishermen in Alaska don't want the state to survey anglers (the last such survey was attempted nearly 15 years ago) to estimate the value of recreational fishing to Alaska.

Does that speak volumes, or what?

With the Alaska Department of Fish and Game recently announcing its plan to conduct the survey, commercial fishing groups like the United Cook Inlet Drift Association complain that a survey assessing the strength of sport fishing would likely be used against them.

I'm thinking of Jack Nicholson saying, "You can't handle the truth!" In this case, commercial fishermen - who generally have dominated fisheries management here - don't want the truth.

But don't be fooled into thinking this is just some "Alaska thing." It's not.

In fact, for exactly the same reasons but on a much larger level, commercial-fishing interests nationally have voiced strong opposition for years to any talk of a federally required license for all saltwater anglers in the United States. So far, most elected officials in Washington remain generally unaware of the economic significance of the country's coastal recreational fisheries (or the relatively huge amount of money that each fish caught recreationally generates vs. the miniscule value per fish caught commercially).

And that's just the way the commercial-fishing industry would like to keep it. No surprise there.

That industry fears a valid assessment of just how many folks enjoy (and spend big bucks enjoying) saltwater sport fishing since that could open up many legislative eyes and lead to an increasingly realistic (and in some instances overdue) allocation of marine resources.

And that's why I've been one of many voices in the recreational-fishing community advocating licensing all, and I mean all, anglers. (No, this is not asking for a "new tax," and in fact actual license fees can be very modest; even so, it would (a) make sure all of us are counted as anglers and (b) if executed properly, provide additional funds for state programs to enhance coastal fishing.)

I can't end these thoughts without saying yet again, neither I nor most recreational anglers have any desire to see all commercial fishermen put out of business. Admittedly, I'm advocating a position that could alter the management of game-fish in many fisheries in a way not favorable to commercial fishermen - but more fairly and realistically per the nation's changing needs, priorities and use of coastal fisheries.

One can hardly blame Alaskans in the commercial industry from opposing a survey that might let the cat out of the bag in an official way, not easily disputed. But even if a properly designed and executed survey ultimately reveals that recreational allocations should not be increased, I can live with that as, I think can most sport fishermen, who are generally fair.

We seek fisheries management that's based on reality, not on historic biases too often favoring a particular industry.

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