Garbage in equals garbage out — an old but accurate concept. Better fishery management requires better data. Really understanding fish requires, among other things, accurate tracking of their movements. Following fish movements has gotten more accurate with GPS tagging, but this is expensive and still presents technical challenges.
The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation is a premier example of directing efforts that help preserve our fish stocks. The Foundation has focused attention on specific shark species; great white, tigers and whale sharks mostly. GPS tracking allows monitoring the movements of multiple animals over extended periods of time. Significant efforts, time and money have been invested to gain knowledge of these creatures and their habits. This enables us to help manage their populations based upon science rather than emotional reactions.
It’s important that we determine what we can take without endangering stocks. When can we harvest with the least impacts to stocks, while also maximizing economic impacts? What sizes should we take, and how or when to get the most out of them?
Fish taken just before spawning impact future stocks. Yet, many fish gather close together to spawn, making them easiest to harvest during spawning runs. How many can we take without risking the next generation of fish? How do we divide them between sport, subsistence and commercial interests? It’s easy to calculate dollars — but what about traditions, livelihoods and people who live off the land? What’s fair? Alaska is the current leader here because of salmon.
To accurately determine anything, we need truthful input from everyone concerned. Ken Haddad put together a stock enhancement advisory board decades ago when he was the director of the Florida Marine Research Institute. He accomplished his goal, creating a core group of concerned individuals from every aspect of fishing: Management, biologists, commercial and recreational fishers, etc.
He selected people who would put our resource and project goals first. It took a little time to allow those that were in the wrong place to drop out. Many individuals tend to make their own wants into priorities! This is a problem, not a solution. It’s challenging to assemble a group that can build trust and work for the goal of balancing all needs and getting it done, and especially so in our current world.
But Ken pulled it off. It took time — decades, actually — and lots of effort by FMRI and many groups, but we accomplished our tasks. We developed the ethics and criteria for aquaculture and procedures, plus figured out exact costs to replenish several specific fish stocks. Unfortunately, we never got any money for stock enhancement.
We still have individuals with anecdotal knowledge from lifelong experience. This knowledge, acquired over time, is critical if we want to develop solutions that address all our needs and issues. To discover those solutions, you first accurately identify the problems. Then, seek varied input from all experienced stakeholders.
Be sure to assemble an ethical group that puts resources first. If they can’t compromise to balance all needs and responsibilities, the effort fails from the beginning. That requires a mindset all but lost in today’s divided world. True statesmen who put right above self have become vanishingly rare.
We honored (forgive me, George) an OLD Virginia gentleman recently with the Foundation’s Conservation Award. Dr. George L. Hanbury II, president and CEO of Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, is a gentleman who remembers our founding fathers and is educating our future leaders. Education is the key to positive change. It’s critical that we teach our future leaders to think for themselves, to discard biases, to seek truth and balance.
Our forefathers, and notably several Virginians, were statesman, not politicians. They were already successful in life but felt the desire to give back. They were educated by business and real-world experience, not just book learning. They understood how to accomplish goals and balance the needs of all.
Accurate information and actual experts (as opposed to opinions and people who know little but say much) are necessary if we’re going to balance nature, business and individual needs so everything can survive and function together. Unity of goals is essential to preserve all living creatures and Mother Earth.
These are lofty ambitions, I admit — but it has happened before and can be recreated if we put resources first. We can utilize our natural resources without endangering them. It may cost more now, but the long-term benefits are substantial. A healthy environment is essential to sustain our lives and the lives of our descendants.
Please listen to those who put others first, not the selfish ones who are watching only their own interests. Support efforts like Guy Harvey’s Ocean Foundation that are helping our quality of life and our planet. Thanks for caring, and remember, you can’t catch fish if you don’t go fishin’, so let’s go fishin’ soon.
Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com. Remember that you can’t catch fish if you don’t go fishin’, so let’s go fishin’ soon.