Do you have any thoughts on this post?
So… It looks like there are quite a few people who have their panties in a bunch over my recent column in Fly Fishing in Saltwaters:Deep Diving (is spearfishing the blood-sport we think it is?). If you are on Facebook, you will see the well over 100 comments on the article which I posted on my page, most of which are from people who appear to be greatly offended, and well… angry. (Please do “friend” me if you’d like to see those comments). Believe me, I get it. It’s beyond infuriating to see some knucklehead holding a big, fecund dead and bloody fish, which had likely lived for two decades before this bonehead decided it would be fun to put a spear in it. But if you could have made it past the knee jerk reaction, and, uhm, read the article, you would have probably seen a different picture.
If you are too busy/lazy to read the article, I’ll summarize it in a couple of paragraphs. Spear-fishermen in Louisiana have been shooting tarpon (29 in the last 3 years according to the Louisiana Council of Dive Clubs) so that Dr. William Stein (an ardent tarpon angler turned marine biologist) may dissect and analyze the fish with the intent of finding out more about them, and with the end goal of providing relevant information that may ultimately help us protect them.
Unfortunately, a spearfishing club unwisely posted photos of dead tarpon/hero-shots as well as video of the act itself. Yes, it was offensive, yet pretty much harmless, and in fact beneficial when you consider the scientific use of such fish. Yet, there was a reverberating reaction as editorials popped up everywhere and internet forums lit up. In response, there were some who rightly pointed out that recreational release mortality (whether it’s 10% or 4%) simply dwarfs whatever damage such speared fish might cause, even if you were to assume spear-fishermen kill “hundreds” of tarpon a year (which they don’t, simply because, as anyone who has ever fished for them knows, tarpon are big, strong, fast animals). In other words, it’s really freak’n dangerous. And, despite whatever preconceived notion folks might have of spear-fishers, they generally don’t like to kill simply for the sake of killing, and you really can’t eat tarpon without having a gag reflex.
None of this apparently mattered to a lot of people who read the piece. That’s assuming they did read the piece in its entirety (given some of the comments on my Facebook page, I have to believe a lot of people didn’t bother to read the entire article, at least not initially). Killing a tarpon was wrong in any case, they claimed. Yet when anyone, including me, pointed out that, well, anglers inadvertently kill a lot more tarpon, and that perhaps we shouldn’t throw stones.… Well, it got a little ugly. There were folks who simply denied and continue to deny the well-established fact that release mortality is significant. And there were people who claimed that they deserve no blame and that the perceived reduction in tarpon over the last two decades was simply due to habitat loss. The latter may be true; however, natural mortality due to habitat loss, plus fishing mortality, of course equals total mortality, so you really can’t point to habitat loss and say you are not responsible at all. Because you are. And, well, individually, there isn’t much we can do about habitat loss, while there are indeed steps we can take to reduce fishing mortality. I listed such steps in my article, no need to rehash here.
Moving on, there are those folks who surprisingly believe that Dr. Stein is not really using these fish for science at all. They claim his documented research is simply an excuse to allow blood-thirsty divers to shoot tarpon. Well, this is just silly. Those divers are entitled to shoot as many tarpon as they want as there are no regulations (gear type, seasons, bag/size limits) in either state or federal waters. Why on earth would they need to use Dr. Stein’s work as an excuse?!
What was perhaps most disturbing, however, were the deeply personal attacks from both sides, some of which came from supposedly unbiased scientists. Frightening given that I had always thought that marine biologists were supposed to be objective. In this case, they certainly weren’t.
The bottom line is this. Anglers more than likely kill orders of magnitude more tarpon than Louisiana spear-fishers. To deny this is intellectually dishonest, self-serving and scientifically inaccurate. I don’t like to see dead tarpon either, but given the facts, I’m certainly okay with some being killed via spear for science. And, of course I like to throw flies at tarpon just as much as anyone else. And in no way did I or would I suggest we stop. I made what I thought was a very valid point; that we probably shouldn’t throw stones at the innocents when we might be living in glass houses, because, in the end, a dead tarpon is a dead tarpon. I followed up by suggesting some things we should be focusing on rather than those fish killed for science by spear-fishers.
The point of this blog is not, however, to simply rehash that debate. It is that, unfortunately, this sort of finger-pointing has become endemic in the recreational fishing community and particularly the flyfishing community. There is often a complete denial that we have any impact, and we frequently act as if we are simply above it all, because we release most, if not all, of what we catch, and we promote conservation in our magazines, etc. Yet most of us are loath to attend a public hearing, or to otherwise actually do something constructive; instead, we just complain about “those guys”. I’m not saying that being a conservationist (e.g. releasing “keepers”, carefully handling fish, educating other anglers etc.) or that promoting conservation isn’t significant. It is! But the supposition that it’s “those guys” or even, in this case anyway, “habitat destruction” has become a distraction from doing what’s best for the fishery, which is in most cases is reducing total mortality. I touched on this during a recent striped bass blog. Such finger pointing to some extent has taken our community’s eye off the ball, and in several cases has severely reduced anglers’ credibility amongst fishery managers. I know this to be true, because I’ve sat with such managers and they’ve told me point-blank that this is the case. And we wonder why we are always being accused of being elitist, snobs, and/or why managers simply don’t listen to us.
Believe me, I’m on your team here, but we have to be real. We really need to work at thoroughly understanding the issues, provide useful solution-oriented comment, and be willing not to rule ourselves out as part of the problem, because in many fisheries we likely are! We have to remember that despite the fact that we, as anglers, may be the best stewards of the resource, that resource does not belong to us. It belongs to the public. And unfortunately, that includes the guy in Wisconsin who might want a fresh fish fillet without having to drive out here to catch it.
As anglers and conservation advocates, we have to work within the system, making compelling arguments that take all sides into account. Not simply come out, guns blazing, that these fish are ours, we don’t have an impact, and we’re more economically important or something. Unfortunately that seems to be the track most recreational opinion leaders want to take. And it isn’t working. .
The take home message here is that we can be part of the solution if we, for one, acknowledge that we may be part of the problem and two, educate ourselves on all aspects of the issue at hand, instead of shooting off with knee jerk reactions similar to the one we saw here with the speared tarpon. In the future, I’ll do my best to educate readers on what the aspects of such issues are. So stay tuned!
Who would have ever thought red snapper could become the next Leatherback turtle, a species pursued to the brink of extinction? Certainly not my fellow offshore anglers and me, who pursued the red delicacies back in the offshore fishing hey days of the early 1970s. But if you look at the latest regulatory actions of the National Marine Fisheries Service, you might make an argument to have the species added to the list. I say, “might” because despite NMFS data indicating doom and gloom, they readily admit that data isn’t worth the word documents and paper on which it’s published.
The latest developments in a four-decade saga of mismanagement include for 2014, the possibility of less than the skimpy 9-day, 2 fish per person season Louisiana was offered for 2013 and the withdrawal of the LA Department of Wildlife & Fisheries from the NOAA Fisheries Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP). This move represents the state fishery management equivalent of seceding from the Union. Furthermore, what seemed just a few decades ago to be an Orwellian project, there are serious attempts to “breed” red snapper for supplemental release into the Gulf of Mexico. How did we ever get to this point and maybe the more important question, is it necessary?
Having spent forty years of contributing in a very small way to the red snapper demise, here’s what I’ve seen. In the early 1970s when I first began offshore fishing, big, beautiful red snapper were easily caught along with 3-4 pound white trout and bull croaker. We were only limited by how many we wanted to clean. All three species went into a serious decline from the late 1970s into the 1990s. With few exceptions, handfuls of 12 inch and smaller red snapper became the catch of the day. Rarely are those big white trout and croakers found at all any more. That is another story for another day.
Following an overharvest determination and the resulting regulations, red snapper populations in the Gulf rebounded.
But while populations were growing through the 1990s and 2000s, NMFS continued to implement stricter regulations using their suspect data. In more recent times the empirical evidence of many more red snapper in the Gulf than estimated by the feds has pretty much been ignored. Reports from commercial and recreational anglers and what you would have to regard as very reliable, eyewitness observations from scuba divers who have monitored fish populations at rig and reef habitat first hand for decades have not convinced federal managers that longer seasons with more generous bag limits are warranted. Conversely, they have shortened the seasons as if red snapper are declining when in fact, clear-thinking, unbridled-by-bureaucrats fishery biologists proclaim there are and have been many more snapper than federal counts have estimated for years.
Earlier this year, Louisiana, frustrated with the incompetency joined other Gulf States by going non-compliant with federal regulations in state-managed waters. The LDWF set up a state waters season offering more days and a larger bag limit. Additionally, Louisiana began its own accounting method to set the stage and argument for regional management of offshore species. This obviously posed a threat to the feds. Their response – at first they said using the new methodology they were pleasantly surprised to “find” excess snapper and would allow an extended fall season in October. But at its latest meeting they reassessed the data and put a hold on that extension until they can further study the data. So while they are considering if and when a fall snapper season is a possibility and what impact this new data will have on the 2014 season, charter boat operators as well as private fishermen are put on hold.
Would this type of mismanagement happen under more state control under the regional concept? No one can be certain but I’m willing to take the risk, given the track records of fish stocks under management authority of both agencies. There’s not a single saltwater species Louisiana manages that is considered over or under -fished. Federal managers have demonstrated the exact opposite whether real or perceived. The result is still the same.
The latest move by LDWF to withdraw from MRIP is huge. As of January 1, 2014 they will no longer participate in the survey. What type of retaliation the state can expect is uncertain, but given the direction federal management is headed, is there really anything to lose?
The Thad Cochran Center for Marine Aquaculture at the University of Southern Mississippi is working on developing a supplemental stocking program by raising juvenile snapper in tanks.
Perhaps the combination of these two efforts will be part of making once again catching and keeping a sensible limit of the wonderful red snapper possible.
This past week I spent some time in DC, common slang for our nation’s capitol and a place I like to avoid when the temperature goes above 85 and Congress is in session. I failed on both accounts. I was there to work with a group of folks from the recreational fishing industry/community to discuss the vision for this user group. What do we think the recreational fishing community/industry should look like in say ten years and how do we get there. It is an interesting process and one that is very much still a work in progress.
One of the groups that came to the meeting to participate in the exchange of information was a number of the environmental non-governmental organization (ENGO) community leadership. Wash you mouth out with soap!!! It was soooo intimidating being face-to-face with members of the “great conspiracy.” Okay, I’m just kidding, but there are some in the recreational community that feel we should not be talking to or working with the environmental community. I’ll take the other side and simply say that the recreational community cannot succeed in a realistic future vision without embracing the ENGO community in some fashion.
Let’s take last week’s Blog on the proposed tuna regulations that NOAA Fisheries is asking comment on. Pushing those changes was not done by a single entity, it was a cooperative effort by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), the National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC) and the Pew Environmental Group. Could the recreational side of the equation have made this happen on their own? Maybe. Could the ENGO’s have done this on their own? Maybe. But they did successfully do it together and that is what counts.
One of the discussion topics at the visioning project was that all of the groups concerned about sustainable fish resources should be working together more often on issues that move all of us toward our visions. It is my feeling that this is going to be important in an era of budget constraints and increasing demands on fishery managers. Does this mean that the recreational community has to agree with everything proposed by the ENGO community? Heck no. The truth is that the recreational community does not always agree 100% with its own proposals.
A number of years ago, I worked with a member of the ENGO community to bring together a coalition of interested parties to look at common ground where we could all work together to an objective accomplished. We did come up areas of mutual agreement, but the effort lost traction as folks went about their own business, not because it was a bad idea. All of these collective efforts take constant attention and effort to push them forward.
So, do I think that we should be working together with the ENGO community where we have common goals? You bet I do. I do not think that all ENGO’s want to end recreational fishing. It is my feeling that the perception that all ENGO’s are after the recreational fishing community is fear mongering perpetuated by a small and vocal minority. It is my belief that most of the reputable ENGO’s want to see sustainable rebuilt fisheries resources. How does that not benefit the recreational community?
I know that there will be potholes along the road to success, but that does not mean we should not try to work together. I believe that it has the possibility of moving the recreational fishing community/industry toward that ever elusive vision of the future.
At first glance, many of the issues facing hunters and anglers today seem overwhelmingly complex. On topics as diverse as ATV use to public land development, climate change to predator management, emotionally charged debates spring up at every sportsman’s gathering. None of these issues seems to have a simple answer.
I often am confronted by individuals or organizations asking about the TRCP’s position on the issue of the day. My answer is always the same: What does the best available science tell us?
The TRCP’s mission is, and always has been, to guarantee all Americans a quality place to hunt and fish. To do this we need sustainable fish and wildlife populations and habitats to support them. Our professional wildlife managers intimately understand this and implement policies and procedures to ensure it.
Where the process falls off the rails is when we start trying to manage our fish and wildlife through what is sometimes referred to as “ballot box biology” – a process by which fish, wildlife and habitat management decisions are made not by professionals using sound, supportable, peer-reviewed and published science but by public opinion. Unfortunately, public opinion can be deeply divided, fueled not by the facts but by emotional rhetoric and snappy catch phrases that fit neatly onto bumper stickers.
A good example of this can be seen in the ongoing controversy surrounding gray wolf management, an issue that has splintered the sportsman’s community. Specifically, wolves have been single-handedly blamed for dramatically reducing big game numbers to the point where the absurd claim of “the wolves ate them all” is commonly heard in reference to elk, deer, moose and even bighorn sheep.
It’s an easy bandwagon to jump on. The image of a snarling, larger-than-life predator with blood-drenched fangs can haunt even the most reasonable hunter’s dreams when he’s on a long and unsuccessful quest and not finding the animals he is used to seeing in his favorite hunting spots. But the scientific reality behind recent population declines is far more complex, and to attribute it solely to any one factor, including predation, is an unjust over-simplification. In fact, a study sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation on the elk declines in the Yellowstone area has determined that wolves have had a minimal effect on elk populations.
Another recent study out of Minnesota, where a 69-percent decline in moose populations has put an end to moose hunting in that state, points toward climate change as the major factor. Milder winters are raising the survival rates of blood-sucking ticks that attack moose in the tens of thousands, when the animal already is stressed by a warmer than normal summer. Unfortunately, despite sound scientific support, “the ticks ate them all” just doesn’t have the same ring to it – and likewise would be inaccurate.
Predators such as wolves or ticks don’t exist in a vacuum. Undeniably, they have an impact; however, a host of other, much less glamorous causes exists, such as habitat degradation and fragmentation, fire suppression, irresponsible development, over-grazing, invasive species and disease.
As difficult as it may be, every sportsman is responsible – for the future of our own and our children’s hunting and angling opportunities – to be factual and credible to ensure we identify and address the actual challenges our natural resources are facing.
We must make the effort to look for the facts of each situation and ask ourselves, “What does the best available science and our professional wildlife managers tell us is best for fish, wildlife and their habitats?” Because ultimately, this also will be what is best for sportsmen.
The science behind sustainable fish and wildlife management is complex. But the decision to use it should be very simple.
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More