If you like ocean fishing, you'll want to know about the government's latest plans.
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service is proposing a new rule that would require anglers and spearfishers to register before heading out into federal ocean waterss in 2009.
The rule would also affect those who fish for anadromous species in rivers and estuaries. Anadromous fish are those that spawn in freshwater but live their adult lives in the ocean. Salmon is the most famous example, but everything from striped bass to herring have similar life histories, and unfortunately their numbers are in most cases plummeting.
And that's the larger picture. Scientists need data to figure out why our fish are in such sorry shape.
"The national registry of saltwater anglers is the key to closing a major gap in information on recreational fishing," said Jim Balsiger, NOAA acting assistant administrator for NOAA's Fisheries Service. "It will help us conduct surveys to get a more complete picture of how recreational fishing by an estimated 14 million people is affecting fish stocks. This will lead to better stock assessments and more effective regulations to rebuild and manage these valuable fish."
Some anglers are likely to resist this change (though anyone who gets a state-issued saltwater license is likely to be exempt). Why should we have to tell the government, after all, if we're going out to hook some stripers? Won't this just lead to new restrictions? Isn't this just an excuse to charge me another fee?
The reason is simple: If we don't know what influences fish populations, we can't manage them so they stay abundant.
True, if it turns out recreational fishing is harming certain species, the sport might suffer new restrictions. True, you might have to pay $15-$25 (after the first two free years) for the privilege of playing in our common waters.
But the studies will also measure the economic impact of recreational fishing, and that has proved time and time again to be a powerful argument for the retention of fishing rights.
Whatever you think about the proposed rule, you can let NOAA know: Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted until Aug. 11. Mail yours to:
John Boreman Director, Office of Science and Technology
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Attn.: Gordon Colvin
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