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Should We Abolish Fishing Regulations?

Anglers are sharply divided on the benefits of fishing regulations. Where do you stand?

March 6, 2018

OPINION

Are we sport fishermen all in need of therapy, or what? Clearly, when it comes to laws regulating our sport, as a group we seem to be conflicted.

Many anglers despise “big-government” fisheries laws and have hardly been shy about saying so.

For years, comments in forums and on social media having anything to do with NOAA or NMFS (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration or the National Marine Fisheries Service), and often with fisheries laws in general, have been met with, well, the sort of language I’d be ill advised to repeat here. Let’s just say it has gotten pretty ugly.

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Given the incendiary rhetoric, one could ­reasonably conclude a lot of anglers might figure they would be a whole lot better off with no regulation.

Or maybe not.

Recently, we posed the question on social media: “What would your fishing be like without fisheries regulations?” Some of the answers surprised me.

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That’s because quite a few of the dozens who responded to this Question of the Day posted replies saying, in so many words, “If you think fishing sucks now, try it without regulations.”

Some samples:

“I would be inclined to say nonexistent. … Regulations should be followed.” (“Nonexistent” was mentioned in many replies.)

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“Come to the U.K. and find out. Our once-rich seas have been fished out by European trawlers.”

“It’d be pretty boring with no fish around.”

“A total mess.”

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“No fish left.”

“Game over.”

“It would be rape and pillage by enormous numbers of fishers.”

“A disaster.” (Another often-repeated description.)

Of course, I don’t interpret these replies to mean all these folks agree with all fisheries regulation; I’m sure many dislike or disagree with some of the fisheries laws and decisions facing them.

But one might conclude from their comments that an imperfect system is better than no system.

On the other hand, some fishermen feel quite differently. Lots of respondents figure absolutely no regulation and no fisheries laws are exactly what we need. Some of the replies to our question about what fishing would be like without regs:

“Wouldn’t change.”

“|A lot better.”

“The same as 50 years ago. … Lose all the regs.”

“Great.”

“I’d put my boat back in the water and actually use it.”

“I’d spear every goliath grouper I saw.”

“I fish for food, not sport. I have every constitutional right to do so without their interference.”

I find it interesting that with such a basic concept as fishing laws or no fishing laws, anglers are all over the place. But above all, when it comes to antipathy toward fishing laws, the greatest concern of anglers is fairness. That is, a whole lot of those in the recreational-fishing community feel fishing laws simply are not fairly or sufficiently applied. Examples of comments:

“The Army Corps of Engineers is allowed to destroy entire estuaries and everything in them. But we have fishing regulations.”

“A total lack of enforcement makes the point moot.”

“I would keep as many fluke as I want because I see the commercials doing it every day!”

“There are no regs for pelagics in Hawaii.”

“Members of NOAA owning commercial boats in the Gulf. Conflict of interest much?”

All food for thought. You might ask yourself where you stand on that question. I’m in the category that recognizes the need for regulation. I see neither federal nor state fishery managers as evil or moronic.

Granted, some might be misguided or wrongheaded, and that’s unfortunate. But for the most part, I see most as earnest officials and scientists trying to do a tough and often thankless job, and sometimes making decisions along the way they might later realize they could have called differently.

I think those of us in the recreational-fishing community need to continue to make our voices heard to make fisheries laws better, not abolish them. But that’s just me.

Doug Olander is editor-in-chief of Sport Fishing magazine.

Sport Fishing welcomes opportunities to share a variety of perspectives from prominent or influential participants in issues related to recreational fishing and fisheries.

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