Hi there, I’m Alfred. I’ll be your waiter tonight. What may I get you? We’ll have the bluefin tuna. I’m sorry sir, that’s been overfished and is on the banned list right now. Well what about the yellowfin tuna? No, that one also. No tuna on the menu, well then we’ll have the salmon. I’m sorry, but again all salmon from the Pacific West Coast has been banned for this year. Ok, we’ll have the cod then. What, they were overfished years ago. Ok, just what species do you have left on the menu?

As fishing bans go into effect worldwide who is it that really cares? After all, estimates indicate that there are over 21,000 species of fish on this plant, more than all vertebrates species combined. So what’s the big deal if we have to eat eel instead of salmon?

As the world hunts down the moving fish stocks depleting them along the way in the age old harvesting of one of the earth’s largest natural resources, the commercial fisherman simply changes gear for the “new species of the year” as easily as a fly fisher changes to a new fly pattern. Having overfished the previous species the fisherman just moves on to the next available fish stock that will sell. This practice has been going on for hundreds of years, yes hundreds not just decades.

The term “sustainability” is a recent concept just now taking hold around the world’s fishing grounds. For the fisherman, the once unlimited fish stocks have now found that there actually is a limit. That limit became obvious when the ocean’s catch rates of tuna plummeted, anadromous fish didn’t return to the rivers to spawn, and the Asian fishing fleets had to travel to the South Pacific fishing grounds for their catch.

So what does all this have to do with sport fishing? Our groups are conservationists protecting the fish we target. We all donate to Trout Unlimited, Bonefish and Tarpon Unlimited and all the other groups attempting to protect the waters and species we cherish.

Yes, most sport anglers are conservationists. Yes, most try to help protect their sport so it will be here for generations to come. But what is really different about the sport angler stocks and the commercial fishery stocks? Sport fish have been overfished to the point that stocking is required to maintain the fishery in most freshwater lakes and streams. Why is Alaska fishing so popular? Because the stocks are for the most part native. Salmon, rainbow trout, grayling and dolly varden are native in most rivers in Alaska. We cherish that fact and the fight the native fish provides when compared to its stocked brother.

But the ocean and seas of the earth where all the commercial overfishing is taking place is in fact the same place that the huge saltwater sport angling business is centered around. Yes, business. “Business worth” and “economic value” to us humans is the number one factor that defines a product or resource’s value. No different than commercial fishing. We are all after the same thing – the valuable fish. Oh we sport anglers like to think we are a notch above the commercial fisherman but it really isn’t so. The two groups have never really got along since we complete for the same resource, but that’s where the similarity ends.

Sport anglers do attempt to conserve the resource – “catch the fish more than once.” But do the fish we release really survive to fight another day. And what about by-catch by commercial fishing? And in Central and South American countries, do they know we are spending millions to protect the fish that migrate to them which they eat?

As you can see this is protecting sport fish is a global dilemma. The fish do not know of our imaginary boundaries. The tuna in the South Pacific don’t know that the Asian fleet isn’t supposed to fish them. The tarpon migrating from Florida waters to Central America don’t know their survival odds may decrease along the route with different policies in affect within all the countries they swim by.

Without world policies on fish stocks sustainability is not possible. With 3 to 200 mile fishing limits or other such imaginary boundaries for individual countries to work you would have to first and foremost notify the fish and make sure they adhere to the rule for protection by staying within the boundaries. Hmmm… Not plausible? No, I think not – I can’t even get a fish to work with me when I’ve promised I’d release him properly and unharmed.

What policies will work? Short of every fish on the table coming from a fish farm, in the case of commercial fishing only the constant monitoring of the fish stocks and regulating the annual catch can begin to keep a modicum of control to reduce overfishing. Enforcement is the number one problem in most fishing regulations with an area consisting of three quarters of the planet one can see the insurmountable task at hand. Will stocks continue to be depleted and some even reach the brink of extinction? Most definitely. So what polices work and where can they be implemented? The wholesaler and inspectors or “fish marshals” are the key. Accepting fish caught within banned zones would cost the wholesaler his business, plain and simple. How would he know if the fish are legal or not? Global fish inspectors become part of the commercial fishing industry with one assigned to each ship. The inspector’s responsibility includes providing certification that fish being sold are from legal waters. The wholesale fish buyer would not buy any fish without an inspector’s approval. If he does the fish are obviously illegal and that indicates his paper trail is counterfeit which brings in the law leading to closed doors. Sound far fetched? Inspectors riding ships in the South Seas is currently being implemented to protect the tuna stocks from the overfishing. Why not make this a global requirement for all commercial fishing industries. Does beef get sold without some form of inspection? No, so why is the fishing industry so far behind the curve when more of the world eats fish than beef?

Policing the oceans is currently being done but in a number that would equal the DEA looking for drug smugglers, maybe 1% being caught. A cop on every wave would drive the cost of fish to around that of blood diamonds from South Africa so that’s not feasible. But what is. And how do you police such a massive global problem? Again, inspectors or “fish marshals” on every ship will provide not only a legal manifest of the fish caught but also valuable information on the health of the stocks and by-catch problems. Crab fisherman in Alaska have biologist ride along to not only ensure the crabs are being taken care of but also to monitor the stocks – illegal crabs (type or size) can’t be sold to the wholesaler.

Ok, the policing of the oceans are figured out but let’s get back to the saltwater sport fish. Are the ocean’s fish we target for sport really being protected and if not why should anyone care? After all it’s not like its food on the table. Again that term, “economic value” surfaces. Sport anglers account for revenues in some locations rivaling the commercial fish catch. In some countries the sport angler’s contribution to the economy out weighs the commercial fishing contribution 2 to 1. In small countries such as Belize and islands such as Christmas Island the sport angler is prized and provides a considerable amount to the local economy. Do these areas still utilize the sport fish for food? Sure they do but many harvest the sport fish for sale as a commercial food source also and not just for the family table. The fish in question are tarpon, bonefish, permit, snook, sailfish, marlin, dorado, and many more. Most any fish that winds up on a hook in countries where it is a way of survival is subject to diner fare and if the table is full the fish is headed for the market. Many of the fish mentioned such as sailfish and marlin have been brought to decline by first world countries’ commercial fishing fleets, not the fleet of guys out in one man pangas.

So where does this leave the saltwater sport fish? Since we can’t educate the fish the task falls on the angler and commercial fisherman. Spreading the word of economic disparity between killing the fish and releasing the fish is the key. We obviously can’t have a fish marshal on every sport fishing boat or skiff so the answer lies in educating the sport angler and the local diner fare fisherman. The sport angler is easy. He or she doesn’t need the fish for the table and the main concern here is proper releasing of the fish to provide more of a guarantee the fish will survive after it swims away. You never know if the fish did survive unless you are in a small lagoon or backwater area and suddenly see a fish belly up. The number one problem in saltwater sport fish survival is boating large fish. Marlin, sailfish and tarpon can be in the 100 plus pound range and bringing a fish that size into a boat is just asking for trouble, not to mention the danger for the anglers. Thrashing and beating themselves on a boat does not help the fish at all. Isn’t a better trophy photo one that shows a more sportsmanship release with the fish along the side the boat with you bent down holding onto the huge monster? And gaffing a fish in the mouth is definitely not conducive with survival by creating a wound that may hamper the fish’s feeding. These and other proper release methods solve the sport angler’s problems but now how to get the word across to the diner fare fisherman.

Belize is a country that has had much success turning the local diner fare fisherman into money making sport fishing guides. Seeing the writing on the wall many years ago the small fishing villages saw the fish stocks true value and learning from their northern brothers in the US and England they discovered the profession of fishing guide. Not only has their individual income increased dramatically (charging and average $200 US per day) the fish stocks are being preserved. However, until September of 2008, there were no laws on the Belize books protecting these fish from ending up on the table or being used as bait and many, like permit and bonefish, still do. For some, change just isn’t possible and using bonefish for bait and permit as a tasty dish is common practice. The new law still being completed will place tarpon, bonefish and permit into a protected status whereby the only way they can be legally caught is using proper catch and release methods. Retention of these fish will bring a fine. Enforcement will come into play in a country so small that crime is a challenge let alone monitoring the waters for illegal fishing. Many say the law is insignificant without enforcement but every protection effort started somewhere and over time, if nothing more, will place the correct mind set in the people’s discussions and soon become common place that these fish are not to be harvested.

Is catch and release a good alternative to no fishing? Alaska in some of its emergency closures does not even allow catch and release fishing. Many guide companies only use catch and release methods with clients as many fly anglers didn’t fly 3,000 miles to worry about preserving the catch and shipping it home. This year California stopped catch and release of the salmon in the dangerously low returns among their rivers. So does catch and release kill fish? Yes, and some say upwards of 20%, some say 10% and many say they only experience 2-3% loss. Proper care can go along way to decreasing this rate. Ever notice most fishing magazine cover shots show the fish in the horizontal position and looking quite healthy? Scores of dead fish lying on a bank or hanging on spikes off of a charter board just doesn’t sell.

This brings me to the underlying premise of this article. Are we sport anglers and really not that much different from the commercial fisherman of the world. Don’t they want their stocks preserved? The commercial fisherman in Massachusetts have brought suit against the National Marine Fisheries for mismanagement of the fish stocks for decades. So this leads us to believe they do care about their livelihood just as sport fishing guides do. And really, who is it pushing all the legislation to save any particular species? The guides, charters, fishing lodges and commercial fisherman, that’s who. One must have an “economic value” to lose to spend the kind of money and time to get laws passed protecting varies species. But that’s the only reason that fish stocks are controlled or saved from extinction, not mire compassion for a smelling being that lives in a different world. Economic value is assigned to everything on this planet and if the being has enough of it then saved it will be. So you can see we sport anglers and commercial fisherman are in the same “boat” with both needing to preserve the oceans’ fish stocks, just using different methods to do so. Enforcement is a problem for both parties but even one angler can instill change by example. Next time think about how you release that fish and if someone is watching take the time to exaggerate the methods maybe even a kiss for good luck.

Article written by: Onboard of FishnClipsmagazine.com

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