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Fisheries in transition: Recreational Fishing

In light of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s recent changes to red snapper fishing regulations in the Gulf, it seems like a good time to talk about the future of recreational fishing. With the enormous increase in marine recreational fishing over the last 40 years, large increases in gasoline prices and the majority of the desirable fish species overfished, Gulf of Mexico will continue to have more fishing restrictions put in place.People have been fishing just for the fun-of-it for the last several centuries. An English gentleman would spend hours tying the perfect fly in an attempt to fool Atlantic salmon. As children we would go out at night with a tin can and a flashlight rapped in yellow plastic to collect night crawlers. The next day we would go out to the banks of a pond or stream with a stick, hook, six feet of monofilament and our best friend to see if we could catch something. Anything would do, just as long as it was a fish that we could brag to our friends about or use to scare the girl next door.In the thousands of years before these gentler times fishing was used to help us survival. American Indians would use wooden trident spears and stalk trout shallow pools. They used basket traps and spears to catch salmon as they made their run up the rapids to spawn and die. One thing that never occurred to any of us at least or at least most of us, until the second half of the twentieth century, or at any stage in our fishing history for that matter was that there would not be enough fish to go around.Methods of dealing with an excess of hunting and fishing effort have been around for a while. Some that we are familiar with along the Gulf Coast include; closed seasons, closed areas, limits on the number you are allowed to catch and length limits. In other areas of the United States there are gear restrictions which include fly fishing only, barbless hooks, no treble hooks, artificial lures only, no night fishing, row boats only, no traps, no multi-hook gear and no snagging. One way that is commonly used in hunting is license limitation.As an example, in some western states if you want to hunt elk you apply for a permit. Your name is put into a lottery and if it is drawn you get to purchase a permit and you are then allowed to hunt that season. The permits are expensive and there is still no guarantee that you will bag an elk. About three people in ten who apply for a permit have their name drawn and the application fee is non-refundable. In one state you are allowed only one permit every ten years, they are non-transferable and cannot be sold. Why all these restrictions? There is too much effort and not enough game to go around.To my knowledge this type license limitation strategy has not been apply to marine recreational or commercial fishing. Looking at the increase in marine recreational and commercial fishing regulations and restrictions over the last twenty years it is only a matter of time before this proven concept is apply to marine waters. It can be applied in many ways, for example, by lottery you get to fish only every other month, this includes catch and release, if your name is not drawn in the lottery you do not get to fish that year, and only people with last names ending in A through L are allowed to fish this year then M through Z the next.Some of the advantages of these types of license restrictions are that those who get to fish are allowed higher bag limits with fewer restrictions, favorite fishing spots are not crowded and over-fished species recover faster. The disadvantage is that you do not get to fish anytime that you feel like it. Commercial salmon fishing licenses in Alaska are a commodity and if you have one it can be sold, leased or traded to the highest bidder. We should all remember that fishing is a privilege not a right.We this type of ˜limitation” has been applied in many other arenas of the human experience all over the globe for centuries. There are close to 6.8 billion humans on the planet all wanting the best for their families and themselves.The earth’s resources are finite and we are quickly reaching the end easily retrieved items like gas and oil. During WWII there were meatless days of the week in order to conserve protein for the troops. It is not too wild an imaging to say that in the not so distant future that there will be electricity-less days of the week and a year without fishing.

Think Global – Act Local!


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