February 17, 2011

Sustainable Fishing

Captain Rob's creations, circa 2003.
Every so often, the Outdoor Blogger Network puts up a topic that member bloggers can discuss on their respective webpages.  It's a cool idea and generates some interesting writing on topics that most of us wouldn't normally include in our blogs.  This week's topic has to do with the following questions.  What does sustainable fishing mean to you? What fishing practices do you engage in that help fisheries? Any other thoughts you might have on this subject?

This blog entry is my submission for the GreenFish and Outdoor Blogger Network Writing Prompt Giveaway

Hmm, so what does sustainable fishing mean to me?  Well, harkening back to my undergraduate days as a biology major, my first response is that sustainable fishing is harvesting an appropriate number of fish of the desired age and size so as not to affect the ability of the remaining fish to reproduce and maintain the current population.  If the fish had a say regarding sustainability, I suppose this definition would be their stance.  As I think deeper, however, the concept of sustainability varies according to the end user and is ultimately selfish in that each user’s definition of sustainability serves to enhance their chosen pursuit.  I’m thinking in black and white terms here, which is not the reality of the situation, but bear with me.  Let's look from the standpoint of the devil's advocate at the examples of two user groups who are heavily interested in sustainable fishing.

Savage lands a whopper.
Okay, so the sport fisherman wants rivers and oceans teeming with healthy native fish.  That is great for the fish populations and fun for us, too.  The gold standard would be to eliminate commercial fishing to ensure these populations are allowed to flourish.  But let’s be honest here, for most of us, sport fishing is basically a leisure pursuit that we enjoy on our free time.  Is it fair to shut people out of their jobs as commercial fisherman so that we can enjoy a nice weekend of angling?  No.

The commercial fisherman wants every net to be full of fish so that he can pay the loan on the vessel, fill the tanks with diesel, and send his children to school.  However, filling every net means that sooner rather than later, the native fish stocks will be depleted to the point of economic extinction, and no user group will have any opportunity.

Devil’s advocacy aside now, the goals of the sport and commercial fisherman are seemingly at odds, and that is why state and federal agencies have stepped in to (ideally) make science-based decisions to balance the needs of all user groups while ultimately protecting the reproductive viability of any given fish population.  I think they’ve done a fair job, though there is always room for improvement.

Woods Hippie lands a whopper.
So, how do we as sport fisherman go about sustainable fishing?  There are many approaches, but I am going to go with education and participation.  We must educate ourselves as to the biology of the fish so that we may understand their behavior in the wild and the effects our tackle has on their bodies.  We must understand the sampling methods by which the agencies determine the size and health of the populations to promulgate sport and commercial regulations so that we may intelligently comment on their actions.  We must understand the needs of other user groups and realize that the overall goal should be the well being of the fish populations, not our individual needs, and all groups must be willing to compromise.  Further, we must participate in the process, whether that involves joining an advocacy group, attending agency hearings, or simply making friendly talk with a commercial fisherman on the water. 

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