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
for commercial harvest ever again.
That got my attention. It stunned me. 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
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
reared in Hatteras village. All of my grandparents were born
the island, and most of the people I knew while growing up here in the
‘50s and ‘60s fished for a living. In the
my father decided to start a charter fishing business and take
“sportsmen” fishing for fun, fun for them but a
for him. When business was slow, he continued to commercial
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
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
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
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
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
proud, really proud, of all of this. I was proud because not
were we paying our own way, but we were doing it by fishing. And
fishermen feed people. In the summertime, we charter fished,
our customers liked us and had a lot of fun and came back year after
All of this seemed to be sensible and coherent to me. Fishing
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
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.
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
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
need to adjust (i.e. GO AWAY!).
And why must they go away? That is the question.
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
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
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
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
enjoy their experience. I am very clear in my understanding
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
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
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
The Washington Post, the executive director of Maryland’s
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
of fish. However, I do not believe that I ever helped
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
craft. Does anyone believe that people are buying such
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.
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,
to public schools, and at the university. Choosing even more
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
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
species.” He said this on behalf of the leadership
Coastal Conservation Association. And he said this even
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
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
long way, but from here it sure doesn’t look like progress.