- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2008

When National Public Radio recently reported the Bush Administration is thinking of turning huge portions of U.S. territorial waters into marine protective areas (MPAs) - little more than watery national parks in which, short of just looking at them, nothing can be done - it didn’t take long for recreational fishing interests to take note.

The first correspondence I received regarding all this came from Phil Morlock, the director of environmental affairs for Shimano Canada Ltd. and Shimano American Corp. Shimano is one of the major players in worldwide fishing rod and reel sales. Morlock wrote, “Looks like the coastal angling community is going to be sandbagged by the [Bush] administration.”

Indeed, if the president decides to protect large water areas from “fishing, oil exploration and other forms of commercial development,” sport fishing could be greatly affected because there are fears that such MPAs would turn radical environmentalists’ dreams into reality and sport anglers’ hopes into nightmares.

Bush might create the biggest marine protective zones in the world - far larger than any of our land-bound national parks - and the White House Council on Environmental Quality confirmed the administration is thinking about something along those lines, but firm decisions have yet to be made.

A list of such potential protective areas includes 600,000 square miles in the Central Pacific and a number of deep-water coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as coastal areas in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.

Last year, when a California area was the center of a controversial MPA plan, the founder of the international Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, Ray Scott - a personal friend of the Bush family - got into the act.

He wrote the president and among other objections said, “Recently created MPAs in California’s coastal regions have targeted key recreational fishing areas where alleged concern over one or two species has resulted in permanent and unjustified wholesale closures for all fishing. While these are state waters, the enviro groups are taking the same ‘cookie cutter’ approach to other coastal waters.

“I am deeply concerned that anyone would propose such an outlandish act as to close off our waters to fishing. Therefore I ask you - I implore you - do NOT let [a] narrow-minded group of individuals sway you into something that is going to have an extremely detrimental impact on our sport now and probably forever. We must not allow this to happen.”

What I believe is needed is a definition of the word “fishing” as concerns MPAs. Does “fishing” mean commercial netters and draggers only? Are sport fishermen included in such off-limits areas, or can they be at least allowed to practice catch-and-release sport fishing that would not have a detrimental effect?

Kids fishing derby - The Potomac Bassmasters of Virginia will hold its annual kids fishing derby at Burke Lake Park in Fairfax County on Sunday; register at 8 a.m. and begin fishing at 9. The derby is free and open to children 16 and under. Prizes will be awarded. Bait is provided, and if a child does not own a fishing rod and reel, one will be loaned to them.

“Our goal is to introduce children to the wonderful activity of fishing and get them outside for a day,” says Arnold Aspelin, one of the organizers of the event.

For additional information, go to www.potomacbassmasters.com or call 703/323-6601.

Get ready for a crowd - You might as well forget launching your boat at the Smallwood State Park ramps Saturday. The Marylanders who paid for the park will play second fiddle to the Northeast Division of the WalMart Bass Fishing League as it comes to the Sweden Point Marina for the second of its five seasonal tournaments. Fair warning: It will be a zoo.

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

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