- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Late last week, California Gov. Gray Davis banned recreational fishing in its Channel Islands.

With the stroke of a gubernatorial pen, a popular recreational activity will come to a halt in 175 square miles of coastal waters that surround the islands. It's all about creating marine protective areas that environmentalists say are needed to re-establish certain fish populations.

Yet, the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) cites numerous fisheries management authorities who have expressed unease over the lack of any empirical evidence in support of marine protected areas. More than one fisheries scientist disputes the environmentalists' claims that sport anglers would benefit if certain coastal areas all around the United States were shut down to fishing.

In findings presented earlier this year to the California Fish and Game Commission, Dr. Robert Shipp, the Marine Sciences Chair at the University of South Alabama and an authority on fisheries management, noted that better implementation of existing regulations would make more sense concerning the recovery of depressed fish populations.

ASA president Mike Nussman said the disputed California area equals about 30 percent of Southern California's best fishing areas. They now will be placed permanently off-limits and that includes catch-and-release fishing.

The ASA says not only will thousands of people in the region be unable to pursue America's most popular outdoor sport, but charter boats, hotels, restaurants and other businesses that rely on angler dollars will suffer. Annual losses in retail sales due to the closures could reach $50million, says Southwick Associates, a natural resource economic consulting firm.

California is second to Florida in the number of anglers (2.4million) and the amount of money ($2.38billion) spent on fishing each year. More than 43,000 jobs and $60million in state tax revenue is tied to recreational fishing according to ASA's analysis of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data.

The ASA is correct when it says that the California shut-down might only be the first in a series of nationwide closures.

"We all have an interest in seeing healthy fish, especially anglers," said Nussman. "The sportfishing community has long supported focused closures as part of a larger management strategy, but this single-minded philosophy of banning public access absent of any scientific or economic merit is misguided."

Sport fishermen fear a domino effect, triggering a broader move toward bans of recreational fishing, says the ASA. Further closures are likely in California and in other coastal states including Oregon, Massachusetts and Florida.

Such efforts are pushed by several environmental activist organizations, but anglers and conservation organizations have united to launch the Freedom to Fish campaign that wants marine management programs based on sound science and ensuring angler access when recreational fishing is not jeopardizing fish populations.

Led nationally by the American Sportfishing Association, the supporters include BASS/ESPN, Coastal Conservation Association, International Game Fish Association, Jersey Coast Anglers Association, Recreational Fishing Alliance, Sportfishing Association of California and United Anglers of Southern California. With a combined membership of more than 1million, these groups worked with the ASA to craft the Freedom To Fish Act, now pending in Congress.

"With Atlantic striped bass, redfish, white seabass, and many other sportfish, anglers have demonstrated their willingness to sacrifice fishing [when] it was necessary to recover fish populations," Nussman said. "What we're seeing now is the theoretical fervor for marine protected areas getting far ahead of the scientific evidence to support such measures."

To join the Freedom To Fish campaign to protect fish and a citizen's opportunity to go fishing, visit www.FreedomToFish.org.

Tuna vessels to be monitored Some of the organizations that sport anglers generally are a little leery of have claimed victory in a fight to protect tuna and swordfish.

A coalition of conservation groups cheered a recent court decision upholding a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) regulation requiring electronic monitoring on all fishing vessels in the Atlantic Ocean that target far-ranging species such as swordfish and tuna. A federal district court in Washington recently rejected an industry challenge to a federal requirement that electronic vessel monitoring systems (VMS) be installed on all Atlantic pelagic longline fishing vessels boats that catch highly migratory species such as swordfish and tuna on fishing lines that are miles long.

Sport fishermen will have no trouble supporting that decision. However, the organizations that supported the NMFS Oceana, National Audubon Society, National Coalition for Marine Conservation, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Ocean Conservancy might also turn on sport anglers over marine protective areas that might turn large ocean stretches into off-limits waters.

Keep an eye on those groups.

Chincoteague featured on new duck stamp Virginia artist Ron Louque's painting of snow geese soaring over Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge took first place in the 2002 Federal Duck Stamp contest. His rendition will become the 2003-2004 migratory waterfowl stamp which every duck and goose hunter must carry, as well as being a popular stamp for collectors and conservationists who gladly pay the $15 it costs. The "Federal Duck Stamp," as it's known, goes on sale July1, 2003. A contest is sponsored each year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The winner's design is featured on the stamp and financial gain is possible as signed and numbered prints of the artist's work are offered in specialty catalogs.

Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected].

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