- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 29, 2002

An insidious little government gimmick that allows commercial fish netters to get what they believe is owed to them even after a given fishing season is over and done with should be of concern to all sports anglers who like to go after striped bass in Maryland and Virginia. And while you ponder this, remember that it is the recreational fishermen in both states, not the commercial, who generate the larger amount of revenue to benefit business and government coffers.
Some days ago in Annapolis, an Administrative Emergency Legislative Review (AELR) committee listened to testimony from the netters the watermen concerning a proposed emergency regulation for the commercial striped bass fishery.
Among other things (such as adding nearly two weeks to the commercial hook-and-line season), it would allow gill netters to carry 3,200 yards of mesh, instead of the currently permitted 2,400 yards. The gill netters would be able to catch rockfish through February of next year, plus snag them in their nets during December until 10 p.m. every day.
The Department of Natural Resources' fisheries chief, Eric Schwaab, explained the emergency regulation to the committee. He said it would provide the watermen the opportunity to obtain their quota.
The watermen's chief spokesman, Larry Simns, claims the emergency regulation to catch stripers is needed to provide his men a chance to catch what is theirs, while the Maryland Coastal Conservation Association figures the whole deal to be unfair.
After years of observing the inexplicable power the watermen wield in Annapolis, it came as no surprise when the legislative review committee voted unanimously for the emergency regulation. That's what is so troubling.
Here you have legislators who, rather than showing a deep interest in the conservation of our natural resources, automatically allow the fish netters to get their way. It could be favorably compared to sport anglers appealing to their state legislature because they did not get their two 18-inch rockfish every time they went out into the Chesapeake to try and catch dinner and the AELR committee saying, "Hey, we'll keep the season open until you do get the fish that are due you."
Or how about a deer hunter saying he didn't get his venison and the state agreeing that the season should remain open until he finally shoots his deer?
No, that will never happen, but for some reason the commercials are treated as very special, sacred cows. Why, no one knows, and, sadly, I do not believe Republican Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will disagree with legislators who rush to provide additional income for these netters who actually provide very little income for the state yet can do a great deal of harm to fish stocks that surely belong to all people.
As a sad aside, if you think Maryland is overtly favoring a handful of fellows who set their nets as if God ordained them to do so, in Virginia the Marine Resources Commission that deals with virtually the same things has a voting body made up of mostly watermen or people who favor them. So how do you figure the stake holder majority, the recreational anglers, can get a fair shake in Virginia?
It's enough to make a grown man cry.
Says Bob Rice, a St. Mary's County fisherman and CCA member who has been a long-time observer of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources: "The DNR uses this vehicle every year to appease the watermen and extend any, or all, of their demands for increased fishing time; increased fishing gear; even quotas. For example, hook-and-line commercials figure that any of their unfilled tags represent fish that already belong to them, so they are entitled to catch these fish because they are 'owed' to them.
"The DNR exploits the administrative review [process] on behalf of the watermen. These reviews are what appear to be very contrived, barely legal innovations. As concerns the end of the rockfish season, these striper reviews are strictly for the watermen. They help them exploit the fishery every year."
What an astute observation.
Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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