SF: With all of its resources, couldn't Pew set as a goal the need to change the perceptions of the recreational-fishing community that you've cited?
JR: There are a few people and organizations that have a vested interest in creating these false perceptions and are likely to continue to do so no matter what we do or say. If anyone takes the trouble to read the materials we make available, which go to great pains to explain what we're doing in the world, it will become very clear what we are doing and what we are not.
SF: But if Pew considers that situation something it would like to change, it must realize that most anglers are not going to go online and dig through Pew's website.
JR: Given the tremendous problems facing marine fisheries in this country and elsewhere in the world, it's a pity that so much of the recreational-fishing community's attention is focused on reserves. Frankly, there are a lot more serious problems to tackle that constitute real threats to recreational fisheries than reserves, which, ironically, will ultimately help strengthen recreational fisheries, not hurt them. Regarding reserves, I think that reasonable people from both sides of the debate can sit down and establish a middle ground where there's a higher comfort level than currently exists. We have repeatedly made clear that we are not in the business of trying to close off the world's oceans to recreational fishermen.
SF: But my point is that a lack of outreach has positioned Pew in the minds of many anglers as a pariah, an entity that sits up in an ivory tower and dictates [policy] to fishermen. If you/Pew genuinely feel [relations with recreational fishermen] are important, I don't think you can sit back and wait for invitations that may never come rather than create an active outreach program.
JR: We have staff members in numerous places around the United States who interact constantly with both recreational and commercial fishermen. There's a lot of contact on the ground, and our positions on these issues have been published in hundreds of opinion editorials, letters to the editor and responses to media questions over the years. I don't think the problem is lack of outreach. Rather, it is the concerted effort of some fishing organizations to simply distort what we do.
SF: In terms of Pew's goal to end overfishing, red snapper management comes to mind. While our best science now says red snapper are badly overfished, there seems to be across-the-board agreement [within the recreational-fishing community] that there are more and larger snapper in the Atlantic and the Gulf than ever. Do you feel there could be validity to the claims that the science is not up to date?
JR: Science is rarely foolproof. But good science is the best vehicle we have to assess ocean health. We do the best we can to sort out the good science from that which is not. Like most conservation organizations, we tend to take a precautionary stance in situations where there is doubt, preferring to err on the side of conservation than gambling with the resource. There are a lot of issues that both Pew and the recreational-fishing community care about and on which we ought to be working together. The loss of top [marine] predators is one, for example. Populations of big billfish are in terrible trouble. We've got tremendously destructive gear such as longlines and bottom trawls that ought to be banned. Forage fish, which are so important to many recreational fisheries, are in need of better management. And the list goes on.
SF: Yet ironically, when anglers think of Pew, rather than thinking about protecting billfish, they think about "taking away my rights."
JR: If "rights" are defined as the ability to destroy fisheries that are the backbone of the recreational industry, then we plead guilty to trying to curtail destructive fishing behavior. There's only so much we can do to set the record straight. If some people want to continue to insist that there's something Machiavellian going on about what we're doing or that we're trying to disguise our "real intentions," the best we can do is to be absolutely transparent about our work and then get on with the job of preventing overfishing and rebuilding populations that are so critical to both the commercial and recreational fishing industries.