The Washington Times - February 16, 2009, 10:59AM

Once in a while the good guys win. That much was proved when the Virginia House tabled a bill that would sharply have shifted the balance in favor of commercial netters whenever new rules were formulated by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC).

State Senate Bill 1087, which would have increased the number of commercial fishing representatives, is dead. The Virginia division of the Coastal Conservation Association said: “The threat of special interest influence at VMRC ended [when] the Chesapeake subcommittee of the House Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resourc es Committee voted to table the bill.”

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The Virginia CCA clearly led the fight to bring legislators into their corner after an earlier 40-0 Senate vote would have added two additional dedicated commercial fishing seats at the VMRC. Currently, there is one professional waterman and one sport fisherman to provide input as concerns seasons, catch limits, minimum sizes and various other yearly changes of fish removal rules, all of which should be rooted in firm science, not unholy backroom agreements between politicians and seafood interests.

Had the bill passed, says the CCA, three commercial fishermen could have dominated seats, combined with the seats historically held by seafood industry interests. The commercials could easily have dominated decisions on Virginia’s marine resources.

However, thousands of CCA members, angling club members, and other private citizens who have a stake in the future of the considerable marine and aquatic resources in Virginia waters, called, sent e-mails, faxes and letters to protest state Sen. John Miller’s bill.

The CCA’s sounding of the alarm gained the attention of influential legislative and administration figures who worked behind the scenes to help to defeat the bill. Virginia’s CCA leaders repeatedly came to Richmond to lobby delegates and to testify against the bill.

It goes to show what can be done when sport fishermen stick together and let commercial interests know in no uncertain terms that business as usual will no longer be tolerated.

Now what sport anglers would like to see is an all-out campaign to make the pride of the Chesapeake Bay, the striped bass, a gamefish. With the availability of land-based fish farms — aquaculture operations — it is no longer necessary to deplete wild striped bass stocks to satisfy the desires of fish market owners.

The Maryland state chapter of the CCA ought to take a cue from all this and head the effort to make rockfish gamefish status a reality.

- Gene Mueller

Gene Mueller is taking a vacation; his columns and blog posts will resume upon his return.