I Am About To Go Postal!

A half-dozen friends to whom I've spoken recently have all had enough. They've stopped heading offshore to fish. These aren't occasional weekend anglers. These are hard-core rather-fish-than-do-anything types. Why? Because there's virtually nothing left to fish for according to them. And now, standby...more bad news is coming.

It seems that the gap between how NOAA Fisheries treats commercial fishermen and recreational anglers grows wider every week. This week, NOAA announced plans to close the recreational black sea bass fishery from February to June. This follows the snapper and other closures. And some of the most expert fisheries scientists agree that the information NOAA Fisheries uses to make these determinations are woefully out-of-date, incomplete or just plain wrong. Lapses in science and data collection are killing the recreational fishing industry and its close relative, the recreational boat industry.

"When Congress strengthened the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 2006 in an effort to end overfishing, it did not intend NOAA Fisheries to achieve that goal simply by ending all fishing," says Chester Brewer, chairman of Coastal Conservation Association's National Government Relations Committee. "We need to end overfishing, but we have to have better data and more timely assessments before such harsh restrictions are imposed."

The last time NOAA evaluated the black sea bass stocks was in 2001. Based on that information, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council adoptd a plan that lower catch limits until the year 2015. Anecdotally, the black sea bass stocks have rebounded enough for anglers to encounter them much more frequently. NOAA in its habitually flawed wisdom equates this with recreational anglers taking 30 percent more than their quota. So, NOAA plans to simply close the fishery altogether!

"This is painfully like red snapper," said Mike Able, CCA South Carolina board member. "Managers are using a sledge hammer to enforce the findings of an assessment that is essentially 10 years old. We are urging the federal government to wait for the new assessment before taking such drastic action and examine conservation alternatives in the meantime, such as lower bag limits, to address overfishing. We have to find ways to achieve conservation that don't simply ban fishing."

Bottom line appears to be that NOAA Fisheries has never been prepared to implement the goals of the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 2006.

And NOAA isn't alone in its ineptitude or need for attitude adjustment. Recently, not one, but numerous major striped bass kills have taken place off the mid-Atlantic coast when commercial trawlers dumped fish netted in excess of their 50-fish quotas. After the first incident, the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission decided to raise the commercial quota to 2,000 pounds from the 50-fish limit to help ameliorate the bycatch overage. Since then, tens of thousands of pounds of stripers have been wasted. And the unbelievable reaction of the director of the North Carolina Fisheries Assocation?

"The federal government obstinately refuses to allow an increase on commercial quota or any percentage rollover, and the EEZ is still closed. These [trawlers] wouldn't be anywhere near these recreational boats who were taking all the videos if they didn't have to stay within three miles." stated its director. In other words, if they were out far enough so the recreational anglers couldn't se them waste all these striped bass, the waste wouldn't have occurred. So the tree falling in the forest with no witnesses makes no noise!

New North Carolina regulations are being enacted right now regarding speckled trout as well. No, you aren't going to like them, either.

We have the technology to vacuum up every last fish in every ocean. And we apparently have learned nothing at all about conservation and management since we killed the last buffalo. Back when cod fisherman used nothing but hooks and lines, the cod stocks were far healthier and more productive than they are today. Perhaps that's the answer. Make all the commercial fisherman use rods and reels - and nothing else. I am sure it would work on stripers and speckled trout. I'd bet every other species would benefit, too. - Dean Travis Clarke