In New Hampshire, passage of a bill to ban lead jigs and sinkers of one ounce or less is disappointing, but not surprising. The loonies did a bang up job of making lead synonymous with “toxic” and loons synonymous with “threatened.” Facts and common sense were irrelevant to the debate, as was opposition to the bill by New Hampshire Fish and Game.
The legislation is largely toothless, meaning anglers will just buy more of their jigs and sinkers online and most violators will not be ticketed.
Still, this triumph of emotion over science in the management of fish and wildlife is an ominous sign for anglers and hunters. It’s one more victory for the feel-good, animal rights, preservationist crowd. And one more defeat for conservation and the North American model of fish and wildlife management based on science, which has served us so well.
Even more troubling, though, is the fact that an angler organization--- New Hampshire Trout Unlimited--- supported the ban. The decision did not sit well with Brian Emerson, a licensed guide in the state. In a blistering letter to the organization he said, among other things:
“I am ashamed, as a trout fisherman, to think that anglers placed their trust in you to oversee their interests only to be sold down the river. I will do everything in my power to let as many sportsmen as possible know what you have done and urge them to no longer support your organization.”
And B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Noreen Clough noted a disturbing parallel. “Clearly all of the angling ‘elitists’ are no longer in the Pacific Northwest, but demonstrated that they are alive and well and willing to split freshwater anglers into factions in New Hampshire,” she said.
“They do so at their own peril.”
In the Northwest, preservationists and native-species advocates have waged war against non-native bass for decades, blaming the popular sport fish for the demise of salmon and trout. Of course, the reality is that dams damaged native species, while creating prime conditions for bass. Likewise, lakeshore development in New England has caused the most harm to loon populations, not lead fishing tackle.
But anglers are easy targets. While loonies and other preservationists organize, raise funds, and storm state capitals, we’ve shown a remarkable resistance to uniting on behalf of the sport we profess to love. Instead, we make excuses for not getting involved, and, even worse, fragment, making it even easier for anti-fishing zealots to roll over us.
For example, trout anglers in New Hampshire now have alienated bass anglers. What’s going to happen when the loonies decide that they also want to ban lead-weighted flies, flies with lead eyes and lead-core line? Who will stand with the trout fishermen?
The need for angler unity and activism is not just in the Northwest and New England either. In Minnesota, fisheries managers decided to sacrifice the Mille Lacs smallmouth fishery through liberal harvest as a way to rebuild the walleye population. In doing so, they largely ignored investigation into how netting by Native Tribes is impacting the latter.
Writing for the Star-Tribune newspaper, Dennis Anderson said, “When the bizarre becomes routine, people accept it as normal. Which might explain the quiet acquiescence among Mille Lacs anglers since the Department of Natural Resources recently announced its two-fish walleye limits for the lake beginning May 11.”
And he closed with this: “Fundamentally, what bedevils the lake and its walleyes hides in plain sight every spring, and will reveal itself again soon--- routine now as ice-out, but nonetheless bizarre. It’s the nets.”
But the 500-pound gorilla in the room for anglers everywhere is the threat to access. Right now, the focus mainly is on salt water, as typified by the National Park Service’s recent proposal to set up non-combustion zones in 1/3 of Florida Bay, a part of Everglades National Park. In effect, many popular fishing areas would become virtually inaccessible.
Previously, the NPS went far beyond what was necessary to protect threatened bird species, denying access to massive areas of shoreline for surf anglers at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
And the National Ocean Council will prove to be just as fervently anti-fishing, as it “zones” how our waters will be used. Yes, it will start with blue water and coastal areas. But it won’t stop there.
“It’s only a matter of time before they restrict access to fishing in freshwater,” said Clough.
It doesn’t have to happen. But if freshwater anglers follow the example of trout fishermen in New Hampshire, it surely will.
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)