Serious Fun

Safeguard our resources to ensure longer-term enjoyment
What we do as sport/pastime/hobby is pure fun. Fishing - what could be more fun than that? But sometimes the fun gets serious. And I don't mean total, throw-caution-to-oblivion, throttle-to-the-metal... "serious" fun. I mean put-on-the-conservative-hat serious. In the last month, temperatures as far south as sunny Florida have tapped at the frigid range. At one point, 49 of the 50 states could boast snow. When air temperatures cool, water temperatures drop, sometimes quickly and dangerously. In fact, on Jan. 14, North Carolina closed its state coastal waters to all commercial and recreational spotted seatrout harvest - for an indefinite period. North Carolina suffered multiple cold-stun events in several bays and creeks, a repeat of similar temperature hits in January 2010. Estuarine water temperatures plunged in South Carolina, as well, though state officials haven't decided to take any action as yet. In my home state of Georgia, we've had trout kills for two winters now. Last spring, a coalition of conservation groups such as CCA and Georgia Wildlife Federation, with state officials, launched Operation ROE (Release Over Eighteen). The public-awareness campaign encouraged voluntary release of trout over 18 inches - most of which are females that can potentially produce 20 million eggs per spawning season. Georgia anglers and fishery managers have already started talks to revitalize Operation ROE to mitigate this winter's impact on Peach State trout populations. Florida's snook suffered in 2010, prompting that state's fishery managers to close harvest of snook and reconfigure the open seasons. So far, in 2011, Florida reported that colder temperature have affected manatees, but have not announced widespread angst over fisheries. Snook season remains closed, however, under the new guidelines: In Atlantic state waters, the season closed Dec. 15 and won't reopen until Sept. 1. In Gulf state waters, the season closed last winter (early 2010) and will stay closed until Sept. 1. No one really knows whether these recent cold winters signal overall climate change or cyclical norms; whatever they are, they can still cause significant mortality. In fact, they serve as good reminders that fish deal with loads of environmental factors other than predation by humans and bigger fish. Most anglers I talk with or who post on the forums that I see support protecting the cold-stressed fisheries, though I know there are others who still fish to fill coolers. I hope that by now they're becoming a dwindling minority, and that whether by law or request, they'll heed the warnings and err on the side of "serious" caution.