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How Division Amongst Anglers Puts the Striped Bass Fishery at Risk

Summary: These days it seems like just about everyone has their own theory as to the best way to manage striped bass. Division amongst the striped bass fishing community runs rampant. Ironically, these differing viewpoints over commercial fishing and game fish status may be doing more harm than good to the fish striped bass anglers are hoping to preserve.

The striped bass is one of the Atlantic Ocean’s most popular and important fishes. Charter captains, commercial fishermen, bait shops, restaurants, boat dealers, magazines, websites and countless other businesses and individuals benefit from the striped bass fishery. Striped bass are one of the most fun fish to catch in the ocean, and many people enjoy the recreational pursuit of the fish. The striper has certainly earned “celebrity status” amongst the East Coast fishing community.

With all that the fishery has been through, there is no shortage of personalities, perspectives, groups and associations preaching what they believe to be the best management strategy for the future. Yet more often than not these differing perspectives and heated debates do more damage than good, for the very fishery they are intended to preserve.

Most striped bass related groups routinely cause division within the striped bass fishing community-albeit most likely without even realizing it. Preserving the longevity of the species, and making sure that stripers are around for generations to come is a common goal for all of these groups. However, beliefs as to the best way to approach preserving the species for future generations differ greatly. These different beliefs often pit striper anglers against one another.

The rift between commercial striper fishermen and recreational striper fishermen who seek game fish status for striped bass is a blaring example. To make a long story short, some groups preach that game fish status is the best way to ensure the long term survival of the species. If striped bass are ever given game fish status, then commercial fishing for striped bass would be banned. With game fish status, only recreational anglers could participate in the fishery.

If you frequent online striped bass fishing forums, you have most likely witnessed the debate. Long threads containing hundreds of emotionally charged comments are pretty hard to miss.

Yet very little progress, if any progress at all, is gained from these debates. More often than not, the result of any game fish vs. commercial fishing debate is a bunch of striper fishermen who are now more agitated at one another than they were before the debate began.

Arguing like this over game fish status does a lot more damage than good for the very fish we are hoping to preserve. Let me explain why.

The striped bass fishing community is already one of the most divided fishing communities in the U.S. Debates such as the game fish debate create more enemies than friends amongst the striped bass fishing community. Commercial bass fishermen become agitated and upset, and so do the game fish advocates. By partaking in such emotional debate, the striped bass fishing community is only succeeding in creating more divisions amongst what should ideally be one cohesive group of striped bass anglers.

This disharmony severely restricts the impact that the more than 3 million East Coast striped bass fishermen have on legislators and management boards responsible for making striped bass fishery decisions. Instead of one powerful voice of 3 million anglers, we have small ineffectual, contradicting whispers from a plethora of different groups.

This is a big problem because striped bass anglers are, without even realizing it, doing the dirty work of certain environmental and anti-fishing groups. These anti-fishing and environmental groups often deploy a “divide and conquer” strategy on a population of fishermen as a means for passing anti-fishing legislation. By pitting anglers against themselves, the anti-fishing groups increase their chances of passing anti-fishing laws.

Recently anti-fishing groups have deployed this divide and conquer strategy in the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately for Gulf fishermen, the tactic is working exceptionally well.

A radical management plan called sector separation or “catch shares” is being forced down the throats of Gulf fishermen. For a while now, catch shares has been touted by environmental groups, and NOAA as a responsible and effective policy for the preservation of fish species and marine ecosystems.

However there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that the true purpose of catch shares is to privatize the marine environment. The right to fish for certain species would then be sold or leased back to recreational and commercial fishermen. Of course all of this is done under the guise of “fisheries conservation.”

If things go according to NOAA’s plan, recreational fishermen in the Gulf may be purchasing fish tags from Wal-Mart in the not-so-distant future. Countless small boat commercial operations could be forced out of business through buyouts from industrial scale operations. [This is currently occurring in New Bedford, MA – check out “Fishermen Divided Over Whether to Appeal Catch Shares Ruling”]

Needless to say the majority of Gulf fishermen firmly oppose catch shares. How then is NOAA succeeding in implementing the catch share plan, especially when so many commercial and recreational fishermen oppose the policy?

Division amongst Gulf fishermen and Gulf fishing groups is the culprit. Division has allowed the Environmental Defense Fund and NOAA to infiltrate the organizations which are supposed to stand for Gulf fishermen.

To be more specific, NOAA has successfully infiltrated the Gulf’s commercial and recreational fishing community by pitting certain charter captains against their fellow fishermen.

This is a problem because Gulf fishing groups like the Charter Fishermen’s Alliance, Save Our Sector, and the Gulf Fishermen’s Association are supposed to represent the majority of Gulf fishermen. Yet the vast majority of Gulf fishermen have made stands against catch shares. Why then are the Charter Fishermen’s Alliance, Save Our Sector, and the Gulf Fishermen’s Association pushing to enact catch shares?

Evidence suggests that key members of the above mentioned groups have been lured by the promise of big profits if catch shares are implemented. Said another way, a very small percentage of Gulf fishermen hope to grab a big share of the fishery, and then rent it back to the average commercial fishermen or weekend warrior.

Division amongst fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico has made it easier for NOAA and anti-fishing groups to implement their catch share agenda.

Viewed from this perspective, the East Coast’s striped bass fishery presents an excellent business opportunity for the corporations and individuals involved in the catch share scheme.

Unfortunately striped bass anglers have, through their own actions, already done half of the work for the anti-fishing groups. The East Coast striped bass fishing community is divided. Our ability to offer one unified, cohesive and powerful message to lawmakers is restricted because of our own inability to get on the same page.

What is happening to Gulf of Mexico commercial and recreational fishermen is a precursor to what could, and probably will, face commercial and recreational striped bass fishermen along the East Coast. The striped bass fishing community will fare better against NOAA and various multimillion dollar anti-fishing groups if we are able to act as one cohesive unit.

Most folks involved with striped bass are concerned about game fish status, commercial fishing, and other “serious” issues such as banning yo-yoing pogies and mandating the use of circle hooks. However these issues pale in comparison to the larger, and more pressing issues that could face our fishery in the not so distant future. The catch shares threat is one of the largest threats; however it is not the only issue looming on the horizon.

I commend the drive and determination of the folks who preach game fish status, and other management ideas. Their efforts are motivated by only the best of intentions. However unbeknownst to them, their actions and efforts are also causing more division amongst the striped bass community.

I firmly believe that the best way to preserve the long term survival of the striped bass fishery is to work together better as a community, and handle differing viewpoints and beliefs in a mature and respectful manner.

If we fail to come together as one cohesive community of 3 million striped bass anglers, we may one day have to pay for our very right to fish. However if we are able to look past the smaller issues that often pit striped bass anglers against one another, we will dramatically increase our ability to preserve the fish and fishery we all care so much about.

 

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