Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Two Cents

It’s been a while.

Winter is finally over and spring is beginning to grace New England. The last couple of months have been jamb-packed with lining up work for the summer at the real job, seeing my daughter as much as I can and tackling the spring fly shop orders at the vise. There never seems to be enough time to do what needs to be done, what should be done and what I’d like to do. Managing that chess game of life weighs heavy on my mind as I work each night and watch today become tomorrow. Somewhere in the fog of it all are memories of lessons learned along the way about making choices, about often times having to give up one thing to be able to do another. And about responsibility.

I grew up in a family owned construction company and started by scrapping jobs out. I remember staring at a seemingly endless pile of everything that needed to be cleaned out of a kitchen so the finish guys could start cabinets the next morning and my dad telling me that my job was as important as the carpenters job because if I didn’t do mine, they couldn’t do theirs. And then before he went back to being my boss he imparted on me this concept that but for a few lapses I have carried with me in everything I have ever done. It went something like this: No matter what you’re doing, in every part of your life, think about what you’re doing now and how it will affect what you have to do next. And then think about how all that will affect what other people around you are doing now and what they have to do next. And then plan accordingly.

I spend a lot of time reading about fisheries conservation, particularly that of the striped bass. It’s a subject I was once very involved with and vocal about but admittedly I became frustrated with the constant arguments and publicly shied away from it resigning myself to quietly supporting individuals and groups more adept and equipped to explain and progress the issue in public forums. But knowing that in a few weeks social media will be loaded with pictures of dead striped bass, I thought I'd freestyle a bit. The bottom line is that the population of wild striped bass is on the edge of collapse just as it was thirty years ago. I can’t back it up with scientific data and fancy equations…I’m just not that smart. But I’ve seen it. Inshore and offshore, I’ve watched it over the last decade. Everyone I fish with has observed the same thing. And anyone who spends time on the water every week during the New England season, if they’re honest with themselves, has seen it as well.

Discussions (arguments) regarding the who, what and why for the blame of the current state of stripes usually leads to the various state and federal “agencies” tasked with “managing” various fisheries. And then it spreads out among 3 groups; commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen and those who believe the striped bass should be a game fish. The bottom line is we are all to blame - for the population crash and for the wasted time in doing too little to protect what is left of striped bass stocks and to allow for re-population while the blame-game is played. I go back to my dad’s words about “think about what you’re doing right now…”

I have no issue with commercial fishermen harvesting striped bass if the stock supports it but I do have issues with some of the ways it’s done. And I think common sense dictates that if the total number of catchable fish is dwindling than harvest quotas need to be reduced accordingly. I do have issue with the number of people who have commercial licenses and call themselves “commercial fishermen.” I’m sorry but if you don’t make a significant portion of your annual income as a fisherman, than you’re not a commercial fisherman. Going to a baseball fantasy camp every summer for two weeks does not make one a major leaguer.

Recreational fishermen are as much on the proverbial hook as anyone. And I’m one of them. I’ve changed the way I fish and handle fish for release. I fish strictly catch and release now but I have in the past kept legal sized stripers. And I cringe at the thought of how I used to handle fish, the old photos of holding a fish up by the jaw or grabbing one by the I put as much or more effort into safely and quickly releasing a stripe as I do in catching one. I’ve stopped fishing with some people because of the “Bassmasters hook-and-haul” technique they employ and I’ve come close to all out fist-fights with people dragging a fish over rocks and through sand and mud and then actually throwing the fish back into the water.

Here in Massachusetts we have a recreational “bag limit” of two fish over 28”. This should be changed to one fish and the length increased to at least 32”, maybe 36”. This makes clear sense to protect brood stock and in all fairness, if commercial quotas are cut, so should the recreational bag limit. The commercial quota here in the Commonwealth is set at 1.15 million pounds. According to NOAA there are an estimated 897,000 (really?) annual recreational saltwater anglers who fish in Massachusetts – at a daily limit of two fish at an average of 10.3 pounds each, well do the math.

Guides and charter boat captains have an opportunity here as well to promote catch-and-release or at the least encourage the reduction in the number of fish taken. Not to mention ending the numbers game that is played using each of the potential “fish holders” on a trip. You know what I’m saying.

Poaching. We’ve all seen it. We all know it goes on. To each his own but do it around me and I’ll drop a dime, take a photo and then introduce myself.

Striped bass as a game fish. I would hate to see the way of life of a commercial striped bass fisherman end, but I do support the initiative.

The bottom line is that the fate of the striped bass (and I acknowledge there are other fisheries that need to be addressed) is not solely in the hands of regulatory commissions and bureaucrats, it’s in the hands of all of us who fish for them.

There are some sources and programs to note here for solid information and progressive action.

John McMurray, read his blogs at Reel-Time under Fisheries Conservation
Facebook group 1@32 Pledge

Like so many things in this world now we each have to make decisions to ensure that there is something left for our kids and future generations.

No matter what you’re doing, in every part of your life, think about what you’re doing now and how it will affect what you have to do next. And then think about how all that will affect what other people around you are doing now and what they have to do next. And then plan accordingly.

What we do right now doesn’t just affect our own lives in the moment, it determines the future.

North River, MA
29 April 2014