- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

In response to various radical environmental organizations that are proposing to close off vast sections of ocean waters because they believe they need to be protected from commercial and recreational exploitation (they already got their wish in one California stretch of the Pacific), state Sen. Roy P. Dyson, Democrat-29th district, has introduced the Maryland Freedom to Fish Act. The bill establishes requirements that must be met before the Chesapeake Bay or any of its tributaries can be closed off to sport fishermen.

The bill is receiving a hearty round of applause from sport anglers.

"Recreational fishing is one of the most popular outdoor activities in this state. It adds a lot to our quality of life here in Maryland," said John Byrd, the chairman of the Maryland chapter of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA). "Maryland has a thriving recreational fishing industry which includes anglers, bait and tackle retailers, party and charter boat businesses, marinas, and many others around our coast."

According to a 2002 report from two independent consulting firms, 700,603 marine anglers spent 7,471,000 fishing days for a total economic output of $1.1 billion in Maryland during 2001.

What bothers those in recreational fishing is that environmentalists will not recognize that properly managed sport angling including catch-and-release-only practices will not adversely affect ocean or bay species, while commercial netting of the fish surely will. The sport fishermen need to be separated from the commercial segment because recreational anglers have long demonstrated strong support for conservation. They agree with mandatory minimum size requirements, creel limits, seasonal closures, even the use of special hooks to ensure a fish's survival after being released. Let's face it, fishing with a rod and a reel is not the most efficient way of catching fish, hence the use of such equipment typically does not lead to overfishing.

Sen. Dyson's Maryland Freedom to Fish Act prohibits closures to sport fishing unless there is a clear indication that this type of fishing is causing a specific conservation problem and that less severe measures will not be adequate. This bill would also require periodic review of any closures, a scientific basis for the size of any closure, and provisions to reopen areas to rod and reel fishing whenever the basis for the closure no longer exists.

(Recreational anglers will point out that one type of rod and reel use can be damaging to a species and that is the commercial hook-and-line fishing that targets tightly grouped striped bass schools with crab baits and such in very predictable situations. It is a method of fishing that sticks in the craws of sport anglers who prefer artificial lures and then can only keep two fish per day while the commercial hook-and-liners operate on a large poundage allotment.)

The RFA accurately points out that the use of MPAs in one form or another isn't new. What is new, however, is a push to exclude recreational fishing while no scientific evidence exists to back up the proponents of MPAs.

The RFA is a national political action organization representing individual sport fishermen and the sport fishing industry. Its mission is to safeguard the rights of saltwater anglers, protect marine, boat and tackle industry jobs and ensure the long-term existence of U.S. saltwater fisheries. The RFA can be contacted by calling 888/564-6732.

Out-of-town saltwater fishing seminars The Coastal Conservation Association Maryland (CCA/MD) will play host to two super saltwater fishing seminars that feature local experts willing to share their many years of Chesapeake Bay fishing experience.

The Baltimore CCA chapter seminar will be held at Heritage Gardens in Parkville, March 8, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fly-fishing charter captains Norm Bartlett and Brady Bounds will be joined by light tackle trolling specialist Capt. Skip Slomski, as well as Susquehanna Flats guide Gary Neitzey and outdoors writer Ed Russell. Each will conduct one-hour seminars beginning at 10 a.m.

On the same day, the Eastern Shore's Mid-Shore CCA Chapter will play host to its seminar at St. Mark's Fellowship Hall in Easton, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Doors open at 8 a.m. for registration.) Fly and light tackle expert Capt. Richie Gaines will be joined by Pete Dahlberg, Joe Capozzoli and John Page Williams, the senior naturalist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Each will give a one-hour seminar.

Gaines will show how you should use your electronics; Dahlberg will share his light tackle jigging techniques for rockfish and trout, or trolling for large flounder; Capozzoli will talk ultra light spin and fly tackle fishing on the Eastern Shore, while Williams offers advice on choosing boats and motors for the Chesapeake.

Admission for both events is $15 a person, or you can spend $25 for a membership in the CCA. Information: 888/758-6580 or e-mail [email protected]

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