Politicians and the end of fishing:
Is choosing fun over food the new American dream?
With a reader poll at end of article


I recently read an announcement by President George W. Bush who, in doing the bidding of the head of the Coastal Conservation Association (the major sportfishing advocacy group in the southeast U.S.), declared that he was designating both striped bass and channel bass to be “gamefish” in federal waters and, therefore, not available for commercial harvest ever again. 

That got my attention.  It stunned me.  The magnitude, the audacity and the social implications of his action and the action of the organization (the CCA) that lobbied for and promoted his declaration will not even register on most Americans --- but it should.  It should because once again a politician has committed an act that strikes at the very soul of what it means to be a citizen of this country, and we are all diminished as a result.

This statement is harsh.  Let me explain.  I was born and reared in Hatteras village.  All of my grandparents were born on the island, and most of the people I knew while growing up here in the ‘50s and ‘60s fished for a living.  In the late 1930s, my father decided to start a charter fishing business and take “sportsmen” fishing for fun, fun for them but a business for him.  When business was slow, he continued to commercial fish.

He and my relatives worked hard, they earned a very modest living, took care of their families, paid their taxes, contributed to their community, helped feed a lot of people with the fish they caught and sold, and put a lot of smiles on the faces of the sportsmen they took fishing.  We lived modestly but we lived well.  We lived like all the other fishing families I knew.  There were times of plenty, and there were times that were lean. And through it all, the idea was to work hard and do the best you could.  I never remember a time when I was around any fishermen when the conversation was about “getting government help.”

My folks were big on the importance of education, and I liked school.  I said the pledge of allegiance every morning, loved my civics class, and, when I went off to college and saw my first football game, I got a lump in my throat when the band played the National Anthem.  Patriotism and the “American way of life” were a big deal in my house.

My father also had a beach fishing rig that haul seined in the wintertime, and it was the commercial fishing for striped bass that carried us through the winter and also paid my way to the university. I was the first in my family to graduate from college.  And I was proud, really proud, of all of this.  I was proud because not only were we paying our own way, but we were doing it by fishing. And fishermen feed people.  In the summertime, we charter fished, and our customers liked us and had a lot of fun and came back year after year.

All of this seemed to be sensible and coherent to me.  Fishing for fun in the charter business and fishing to feed others in the commercial business seemed reasonable.  Having been around professional fishermen in a small fishing village where men moved seamlessly from one fishery to another when seasons changed and fish populations waxed and waned, it never occurred to me that one fishery was good while the other was evil.  My charter customers did not see it that way, and even though I went off to the university and became an educator, I never saw the contradiction between “sportfishing” and commercial fishing.  Given that many commercial fishermen are also anglers, I guess I can be forgiven that lack of insight.

Now for the first 45 years of my father’s business all was well.  And then, about 30 years ago, the CCA was formed.  Since then, small-time commercial fishermen and a significant part of my village have been in the crosshairs.  The extinction of commercial fishing is the goal and the fishing communities, both small and large, from Mexico to the Canadian border – well, they just need to adjust (i.e. GO AWAY!).

And why must they go away?  That is the question.  Just exactly why would a small segment of the larger American society be forced to vanish?  Why would a group of citizens who are small-time, independent businessmen, who pay their own way, take care of their families, contribute to their communities, and provide food for consumers nationwide be targeted for removal?  What kind of American votes to eliminate such citizens from our midst?  Aren’t these the citizens who possess the very qualities that politicians truck out as the “American ideal” when they wax poetic about what makes America great?

What is behind this move to eliminate America’s small time fishermen?  The answer seems to be just two small words – MORE FUN.  That’s right, the pursuit of more fun.  In the interest of full disclosure, I should acknowledge that I am still operating the same charter fishing business that my father began in 1937.  Business is good.  It is good because my customers enjoy their experience.  I am very clear in my understanding that it is their discretionary income that they spend with me, and I still work very hard, as I have for 50 seasons, to find fish and to help my clients catch them.  Having been successful for a lot of years in the sportfishing business, I am fairly certain that I understand the concept of fishing for fun.

I also understand the concept of fairness and equity.  Our marine resources are utilized by charter/headboat fishermen, recreational fishermen, commercial fishermen, and consumers (who rely on commercial fishermen).  Last year in North Carolina more than 2 million pounds of striped bass were caught by recreational anglers, and something over 400,000 pounds (the maximum allowed quota) by commercial fishermen who sent them to consumers.  According to an article in The Washington Post, the executive director of Maryland’s CCA, Robert Glenn, believes that striped bass are too valuable to be “plundered for commercial sale.”  Killing for fun is good. Feeding others within highly controlled harvest restrictions is bad.  Go figure.

The absurdity of our President’s declaring that he is helping conserve striped bass by stopping commercial fishing and then getting on a boat to go kill some with a hook and line cannot be overstated.  I sportfish for a living and have helped catch a lot of fish.  However, I do not believe that I ever helped conserve a fish by putting it in my fish box.

As you look up and down the coast, from Maine to Key West, in every marina you see boats, boats, and more boats.  Most are pleasure craft.  Does anyone believe that people are buying such expensive toys, with their discretionary dollars, because they are not having fun?  And yet, the notion prevails that we must get rid of professional fishermen so that we will have even more fun. 

Even more fun?  We are already having fun, folks.  Otherwise, we would not be spending our money on the charters, the boats, and the tackle.  Do we really need to wipe out fellow citizens financially, socially and geographically so that we can have even more fun?  I was taught a lot of lessons growing up in Hatteras, going to public schools, and at the university.  Choosing even more fun over the welfare of my fellow citizens was not one of them.

How have we come to this point, this place, where it has become public policy to prevent our professional fishermen from providing product to the American consumer?  What is driving politicians to approve policy and regulations that eliminate a significant part of our coastal heritage and that eliminate independent businessmen from taking care of themselves and their families?  Have we, as a nation, come to believe that all seafood must be imported, unless you are one of the approximately 3 percent of American citizens who personally fish in saltwater?  How elitist is a national policy that bars all but 3 percent of our citizens from acquiring an abundant, nationally controlled, natural resource?

The answers to the above questions are many, but here is the most recent one to come forward.  When our President declared that striped bass and channel bass should forever be designated as gamefish, he also said that this would help protect these two “over-fished species.”  He said this on behalf of the leadership of the Coastal Conservation Association.  And he said this even though the leadership of the CCA knows full well that the striped bass stocks are considered fully recovered by the biologists of the National Marine Fisheries Service (as well as a number of state level biologists), and he also knows that channel bass stocks are considered to be in perhaps equally good shape.

So there it is, yet another example of disinformation and misinformation being deliberately spread to the public as part of a continuing effort to ensure that politicians continue to promote the elimination of America’s commercial fishermen, their families, and their communities.

As a citizen of this state, I find that perhaps the greatest outrage is that the political leaders of North Carolina basically sit idly by while Independent; tax paying businessmen are systematically being put out of business and ---- do nothing.  There are notable exceptions, Congressman Walter Jones and state Rep. Tim Spear being two, but the widespread, pro-active leadership so deserved and so desperately needed is nowhere to be found. 

After all, these fishermen are Americans too, obeying the laws of the land, embodying the characteristics of self sufficiency, independence, and concern for their fellow man that we, as a nation, claim to value.  And while they are being destroyed in the name of providing even more fun for a few, the rest of America gets its seafood from, perhaps, China or our good friends in Venezuela. 

We’ve come a long way from when I was a boy, growing up in Hatteras, feeling so very proud to be an American! We’ve come a long way, but from here it sure doesn’t look like progress.

An Island Free Press Poll

Gamefish status for Striped Bass and Channel Bass?

President George W. Bush declared on Oct. 20 that striped bass and channel bass have “gamefish” status in federal waters.  That means that they are reserved for recreational anglers only and are off limits to those men and women who fish for a living. The President encouraged the states to do the same in their coastal waters. 

Please express your opinion with the choices below and then click 'Vote!' on the bottom of the form.   To view the results so far, click the 'Results' button.

Do you agree that these species should be reserved for recreational anglers only?

I agree that only recreational anglers should harvest these fish.
I think the harvest of these fish should be shared by recreational and commercial fishermen.



Comments are always welcomed!

     Name :  (required)

     Email :  (required, will not be published)

     City :   (required)    State :   (required)

     Your Comments:

May be posted on the Letters to the Editor page at the discretion of the editor.