As the owner of a boat dealership, I'm an avid angler. So much so, I even dabble in commercial fishing as another way to expand my opportunities to fish, though I bring these fish to market for others to enjoy. Some say I'm a strange duck, but I don't think so. I respect our fishery resources, particularly the necessary limits a rapidly expanding population requires of the stock. That's why I was surprised to see a recent news release from the Congressional Sportsman's Caucus signed by leading recreational advocacy groups, even my own National Marine Manufacturers Association, mischaracterizing a new solution approach to an age-old problem of too many anglers chasing too few fish.
What the members of the Congressional Sportsman's Caucus take issue with is a concept called Sector Separation that the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is considering to address the chronic problem of overfishing within the recreational sector. In the fisheries world, there are the two distinct components of the recreational sector — both of which pursue fish largely for sport — as compared to the commercial sector that puts wild-caught food in the market. The two components of the recreational sector are private boating anglers and those anglers who don't own a boat and want to hire an experienced captain to put them on fish.
Both of these recreational components are important, yet only one of them is growing. The private boating angler has seen tremendous growth, and this is at the heart of where problems in recreational fishing lie. The other, the for-hire sector, is limited, some might say declining, because of sensible regulation. There is a moratorium on charter permits because they're federally issued and the federal government takes fishery sustainability seriously, instituting limits to both permits and catches to ensure the old days of overfishing don't return.
Separating the two components of the recreational sector is a legitimate answer. Simply put, recognize both components of the recreational sector as valuable and give them an opportunity to develop workable management models that keep each within sustainable catch limits that fulfill their distinct needs.
For example, earlier this year the state of Louisiana had weekends only fishing for anglers. That might work here in Florida for private boat anglers, but this doesn't seem feasible for a tourist-based economy that relies on charter captains to provide anglers access to fish stocks when tourists flock to Florida's shores for vacation. Separating the two components of the recreational sector allows these differences to be catered to and, most importantly, keeps the fishery resource at healthy levels.
The rhetoric of the Congressional Sportsman's Caucus news release was pretty clear — we don't want any limitations to the growth of the private boat owning portion of the recreational fishing sector. This makes no sense to me.
Playing that forward means either a return to depleted fisheries or no viable access to offshore fisheries for non-boat owning anglers. Neither of which is good in the long run for recreational sports fishing or the industries that depend on it.
Brad Kenyon is an avid angler who has served on fishery advisory panels to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. He owns and operates Boat and Motor Superstores in Tarpon Springs. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.