How many fish do we need to keep? How many acres do we need to clear? What do we have if we harvest every fish, build out every lot and pave every square inch in between? In wildlife management, one of the more basic concepts is carrying capacity — the maximum number of something an ecosystem can support. Our way of life encourages us to believe that more is always better, but is that valid? Gravely important: Is this “more, more, more” sustainable? How long can we maintain our quality of life if this continues?
I have caught and kept many fish. Too many. I now understand the winner isn’t the one who caught the most — it’s who got the most joy out of their catch. It’s not the biggest catches that really count but the best memories. I’ve caught fish many times until my body ached from reeling them in. It was necessary, because it was commercial fishing and I got paid by the pound. It took pounds to pay my bills.
We took too many. Today, only the mackerel species are commercially sustainable to fish. With more of us fishing, we must be restricted to fewer fish each. When I grew up in St. Petersburg, the whole state had fewer people than the Tampa Bay area has now. People, development and growth have had and continue to have serious impacts on our environments.
I still like to eat fresh fish. I have eaten more than my share of snook, back when we had a lot more than now. Yes, it’s tasty, but I find no satisfaction in eating one of the few left anymore. I’d rather have a lane snapper or fat summer mullet these days.
If numbers are the ticket for you, go ahead. It’s America, and you are free to trash your future fishing. However, you might want to consider that eventually you’ll learn that your joy wasn’t sustainable. We’d be better off learning to enjoy the game more than the catching. How we treat our ecosystems now will determine what we will enjoy later.
I left Pinellas County back in the early ‘80s because it had become the most densely populated county in Florida. Now I’m accepting that my days here are numbered, not just by my time on Earth but because this area has allowed growth to overtake our old ways of life. Traditions are not respected. We have too many people who not only don’t respect our environments, they don’t even seem to know how. There’s no longer an understanding of stewardship or concern for water quality, wetland destruction, or maintaining our heritage and way of life.
Who do you think settled here back when skeeters ruled and we had no fridges or air conditioners? Early settlers built on the highest ground because they knew lowlands and barrier islands were not safe. They settled on the mainland and lived off the land and waters. They understood that their food sources required protection, clean waters and natural habitats, or else they were going to go hungry.
Try doing some research on the concept of carrying capacity. Basically, it conveys that a given space can support a maximum number of any living thing. For example, a particular tract of oak woods habitat might have a carrying capacity of four squirrels per acre. If you surpass this number, they are over-using the habitat. There won’t be enough resources for them all. That’s when things die!
Be it drinking water, oxygen or whatever, all of our resources are finite and there is a limited capacity to sustain life. Eternal growth cannot be sustained. No matter how much we deny this basic fact of reality, it will win eventually. There is a price to pay for trashing Mother Nature.
The advertising and marketing folks are very good at selling anything. The data collected and scrutinized in support of their efforts is mind-boggling. Their ability to convince us that bigger and more is better controls many of our minds. How long is this disrespect and disregard for fellow souls and our planet sustainable? It might be OK for my lifetime, but I’m in my eighth decade. What about our kids? I’m scared even more for the world of our grandchildren.
Let me share a simple but glaring example. I live on a small creek off Lemon Bay. I’ve fished it since back in the early ‘70s. I waded Ski Alley and caught my limit of four snook in an hour with Flowering Florio jigs on my first visit. I also caught several tarpon in Boca Grande Pass drifting live pinfish, without disturbing the traditional fishermen.
When I came south with a charter boat down to Whidden’s Marina, we timed our arrival to fish the hill tide. We stayed away from the traditional boats and jumped 28 tarpon in three hours. If a fish headed into the fleet, we broke it free rather than disrupt the locals’ charters.
I understand now that some local captains mistook this as showing off. I can see how that might be the case. The fact is we were kids turned loose in the candy store with no supervision. It was nonstop tarpon action, and we had never enjoyed anything like it before.
For decades, I used to average 2.5 fish landed on each 3-hour tide fishing trip. And I wasn’t the best — just another fish catching guide in paradise. These days I’d be happy to catch 28 fish in the whole month of June.
What happened? People happened. People who showed no respect for fish or for others already there. People who came for money and didn’t care about anything else. Fishermen wanted more, so they used any method they could devise to chase tarpon around Boca Grande Pass, until they ran the fish away. They disrupted the natural spawning behavior of these spectacular silver kings. We still have fish, but not like we used to.
Just like rapid unsustainable growth is disrupting everything folks lived here to enjoy. Folks move here for the outdoors, for the fishing, for the boating, for the unspoiled waters. If we don’t protect the reasons to live here, what happens? If we overdo it, they will not continue to come. Dead geese don’t lay golden eggs!
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.