Fisheries, like everything else we humans get our sticky little fingers into, requires management. It would seem by now they would have figured out how to be better at it. I understand that more people equates to more management. But what I don’t get is why we have gone from no restrictions directly to closures.
Could we stop talking about working with the fishery experts and start actually working with them? The experts, in my opinion, are the folks who have survived by fishing for generations, not the ones with degrees but minimal field experience. I understand the requirements of scientific methodologies, but we need more reality mixed into the equations. Let’s bounce around some thoughts.
I’m not a management expert. But I have worked with most aspects of fisheries for 40 years, so I have a lot more than a clue. I have a better understanding and a lot more experience than many that claim expertise. I’ve attended more meetings, seminars, symposiums, public hearings and classes than I could afford to. I’ve dedicated my life to fishing. Much of this was to give back, trying to help.
But it’s time for me to accept reality: Managers are more concerned about their job security than our actual fisheries. Their egos don’t allow them to consider input from anyone without a degree and peer-reviewed papers. Degrees and published papers get them more money and research grants. But how accurate are they without out real-world field input?
I’ve met some managers that really do care about our fisheries, but because of how the system is set up, they still put their job security before fish. Self-preservation is an instinct, but this isn’t the way to get the job done with the fewest adverse effects on everyone involved. Unfortunately, many studies are influenced or skewed by the source of their funding. You get a grant — if you can produce the results we want. Just look at the “news” anywhere. There are conflicting experts on every subject.
Our country today is all about politics, and fishery management has been caught up in this mess. Red snapper is the best example I can give right now. This is a big money fish, and it’s not managed for those of us with shallow pocketbooks. The average angler must save to do a bucket list trip after them. This is the fishery for multi-engine big rigs that cost a quarter-million bucks and burn more fuel per trip than our monthly food budgets. Even charters for red snapper are often more than a grand, since just the fuel bills are hundreds of dollars each trip. You’re running 100 miles minimum!
With so much money in play, a lot of snapper management has devolved to “Screw you; I’m taking my share and yours too.” Trying to work together to solve issues has been lost here too. Compromises are weakness. How is this working out? It’s great for the few, and small players don’t get counted. The fishing industry is concerned with the folks who support it and its growth. Bigger is always better! More fish, more money, bigger profits.
I recently read that Alaska fishery managers are building an advisory board from stakeholders with generational experience. They finally figured out we need the people who have successfully done the job long-term to understand how it works and how to balance management with what fishermen need to survive. The board includes native tribal leaders and a variety of fishing industry folks — from subsistence fishermen to big money operations. Please understand that while some would fight to kill the last fish, serious fishermen understand they don’t survive if we don’t have fish.
Here in Florida, the FWC is currently asking for input on our state’s speckled trout fishery. Actually, no — they are asking you to comment on their proposed management options for trout. FWC staff makes recommendations based on their stock assessments and pressure from stakeholders. By stakeholders, I don’t mean you and me — these are interest groups with full-time employees to promote their concerns. These recommendations are compiled by staff scientists with “the best available data.”
If you know anything about recreational fishing, you know they have no accurate method to track recreational catches. So, the fact is that these assessments are based upon the best guesses they can justify with some stock monitoring by their research staffs. Unfortunately, we need to factor in that trout are delicate fish. The dead discard rate is brutal for most rec anglers and many guides. There are ways to decrease discard mortality, but many don’t understand or just don’t care.
Education is the key here, but many who used to care have grown frustrated by the restrictions and lost interest. They become careless and many just stop going fishing. We do have some new recruitment, but a lot of them want to bring fish home to eat, not just enjoy catching them.
What I’d really like our fisheries managers to understand is this: It’s challenging to deal with the demands of varied interests. You make that challenge harder to overcome if you don’t listen to the real experts. We want to help make things better. Let us be a part of the solutions.
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.