- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2005

A recent item in Tide, the official voice of the national Coastal Conservation Association, made so much sense we wonder why every coastal state in the United States hasn’t picked up on the idea of buying out commercial fishermen.

Tide Magazine said the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s governing commission decided that saltwater sport anglers should continue to help fund a program designed to reduce commercial fishing in the state’s tidal bays by extending a surcharge placed on saltwater fishing stamps.

Now we’re talking. Instead of griping and complaining about resource-depleting fish netters, why not make them an offer to quit their netting? For the second year, Texas anglers are paying a $3 surcharge used to finance a commercial license buy-back program intended to get the shrimpers, crabbers and finfish netters off the water.

Thus far, the Texas program has purchased more than 1,150 commercial licenses for a total of $7 million. The most recent round of buy-backs resulted in a purchase of 96 more licenses at a cost of $736,000.

The idea, obviously, is to make the deal worthwhile. If you pay a waterman enough so he perhaps can become a charter fishing captain or get into some other business, he just might quit netting.

Why try to get rid of the netters? The answer is simple: We’re running out of fish and other seafood. In the case of the Chesapeake Bay, the states of Maryland and Virginia have made no such move, apparently believing all is fine with their finfish and shellfish populations.

Of course, none of the eggheads in the state capitals who are paid to care for our natural resources is willing to admit the reason recent blue crab numbers took a dangerous drop and sea trout and flounder schools are so depleted that it’s hardly worth going after the fish. We’re told by scientists that the Atlantic croaker population is undergoing a natural downward cycle and will rebound on its own in no time. Oh yeah? You biologists don’t believe that perhaps too many croakers have been netted, do you?

I’ve heard local Bay watermen brag that their nets were so full of croakers in the spring of the year that they couldn’t budge them. I suppose that has nothing to do with the downward trend.

Don’t even bother to ask about oysters or the many 10-pound rockfish that we used to play catch-and-release with around some of the bigger rivers’ bridge abutments. All of them are gone.

Who’s to blame? The netters and the dredgers — and, yes, in some cases, disease.

I’d be willing to pay a surcharge to get a large number of the commercial fish netters to stop. Let’s buy them out like they’re doing in Texas.

For more information about the Texas program check out www.tpwd.state.tx.us and see how it’s done. Perhaps we could interest some of our government paycheck grabbers in Annapolis and Richmond to pick up on this idea. It’s time for them to quit thinking we still live in the 1940s.

Maryland river overlooked by anglers — Not long ago, Maryland fisheries biologists did an electro-fishing survey of Dorchester County’s Chicamacomico River and were happy with their findings. Largemouth bass were present in good numbers at every survey station that was shocked. Included in the bass population were some well-fed 4-pounders. The biologists also found an abundance of black crappies throughout the river system. The “Chic,” as locals call it, is a shallow river and is best fished from a johnboat. At times, the tidal currents can be powerful but spend a day here and study it. Take a look at your fishing license booklet for the DNR’s Eastern Shore offices and visit them or call for best directions when springtime comes.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com

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