January 26, 2012

Outer Banks Angling: The downside of technology


In my last couple of columns I’ve discussed what I consider to be the benefits of the Internet and cell phones to the local fishing economy.

I feel the non-stop change of the world’s technology can help to bring money into our local businesses.

The rapid spread of information can encourage visitors to come to our area on a whim to try and catch fish.

I‘ve also stated that some find this spread of information to be bad for themselves or others, who may feel the squeeze of the extra anglers in their favorite fishing spots.

I can’t say that this is not valid, as I‘ve been a person who was frustrated when a spot got burned by phone or Internet.

But, I quickly try to forget my frustration and focus on my fishing, because I know, or at least hope, that someone is making money.

Some can say I am guilty of blowing-up a fishing spot because of my own reporting and pictures.

Well, I do this because I want to try and help to drive a better local economy, and in truth, our area gets less respect in our fishing than one might believe and less than we deserve compared to the rest of the country.

Most recently, we are seeing a different form of the downside of the Internet with the recent release of the final off-road vehicle rule by the National Park Service.

The final plan lays out the future of the area’s beach driving.
Truthfully, it’s not pretty, and it involves many new restrictions and permanent beach closures to the ORV community.

Some proponents tout that these restrictions will not be a big deal to the economy because most of America’s beaches do not allow beach driving and they survive just fine.

I disagree with this because the Outer Banks has world-class surf fishing that is hard to surpass in any other area, and this is fueled by ease of access by using an ORV.

A lot of beaches are compared to one another, but each is still different in its individual ways.

The Outer Bank’s beaches have been known for decades for their driving and incredible access they provide for the fishermen, surfers, and other beach enthusiasts.

To drastically restrict this access will have a negative impact on the economy, and that has already been proven by unprecedented restrictions for the last four years under a court-agreed-to consent decree.

The prime shoulder seasons of spring and fall have been dramatically affected, and visitor dollars have been lost.

Proponents of the rule also believe that it will best protect the wildlife and allow for less user conflict.

There is very little user conflict on these beaches. Yes, it does occur, but not often enough to make an issue out of it, except by the few who feel they have a conflict with the ORVs.

The wildlife on the Outer Banks has been here long before human settlement and will continue to be here with or without this rule.

Proponents have argued that since the original court ordered ruling was handed down in 2008 some species of birds and turtles are doing better now that the ORVs are more restricted.

However, the proponents neglect to say that these same species, especially turtles, have had very good years up and down the Eastern Seaboard where no additional regulations were put into place to protect them.

I could go on and on about my disagreement with the proponents of this rule.

But, some of my biggest distaste comes from my own side, the opponents of this rule.

The Internet is alive with people’s distain for the NPS and its employees because of this ruling, and I honestly understand it.

There is also some buzzing about local businesses and their stances on this issue.

Some on the Internet think it would be best to ban all NPS employees from local businesses and to make sure the public is aware of businesses that do not oppose the rule as vocally as some others.

Unfortunately, the ORV restrictions over the past four years have coincided with one of the worst national economic downturns in decades.

I have felt in the past that if an individual or business did not agree with views 100 percent, then they were against me.

But, with so much economic loss and hardship on the Outer Banks in recent years, I feel that it’s not right to alienate anyone.

Most of the NPS employees are caught in the middle and have absolutely nothing to do with the final rule.

Some have been sent here and have become part of the community. They are our neighbors, sports coaches, PTA members and so-on.

We cannot hold them liable for the government not listening to our complaints and voices.

They are trying to earn a living in a hard world and do the job the best they can without conflict.

Yes, there are some overzealous NPS employees, but there are overzealous visitors and locals also. Mix the two together, and you may have a charged situation.

The NPS employees have Internet access, and they read about the discontent and hostility towards them.

We should not ban park employees from local businesses, as most are good people and some were even born and raised here.

If any business thinks it can do without their money in this day and age, then go ahead and ban them.

There will never be a total ban on the island for these individuals, so the money one business gives away, another will claim.

I am no longer going to talk about businesses that may not share my opinion 100 percent about the NPS and the ORV plan because I am sure not all of their employees agree, but all will suffer if we support boycotts of any business.

People say that employees of the NPS or local businesses who are unhappy with their bosses’ stances should quit their jobs.

Really? And do what exactly? Find another job?

Once again, we are in a horrible economic downturn with national and local unemployment rates that are through the roof. For months in the local papers, there has rarely been more than a dozen and a half help wanted ads and most of them have been for positions north of Oregon Inlet.

So, we tell people to quit their jobs when there are few other jobs to move on to, further contributing to the stress and turmoil within these individual households?

No. I will not support this.

I just hope we can find a middle ground where we can come up with a viable solution to these issues, without further economic or socio-economic impact.

The reports and articles on the Internet are getting so bad that we are just short of telling people not to come to Hatteras or Ocracoke islands at all and to just stay home, because it’s not worth it.

I am a person who has said since the restrictions of the consent decree have begun that it would have serious economic impacts and it has.

People have said that my talking and writing on the Internet would result in the loss of more visitors and that I would scare some off.

Maybe I did, but it still had to be said.

Many a proponent will spin the local tourist numbers to say just about anything in their favor, but those who live here and visit on the Outer Banks know better and have seen the effects the restrictions have had on so many lives.

At this point, until something changes, we have to do our best to work within our confines and continue to attract new visitors and retain as many of the old as possible--many livelihoods depend on it.

The beauty of the Internet is that so much information is a click away and you can express how you feel in just minutes of typing.

We have free speech in America. I just hope we can use our freedom to project our losses to those who can help us and not use our freedom to cause more loss.

(Rob Alderman is the owner of the Hatteras Island Fishing Militia website and is a kayak fishing guide. Rob has 10 years of fishing experience on the Outer Banks, and is host of the “Outer Banks Angler” television show. You can follow more of his extreme adventures or contact him at www.FishMilitia.com)

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