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Tuesday
Jul152014

Gillnetters Decimating Bahamas Bonefish

Photo taken by Long Island visitor of bonefish and other species in gillnet.

One of the world’s best bonefish fisheries is being destroyed right now by gillnetters raking the shallows indiscriminately for bait.

In the Bahamas, a Long Island bonefishing lodge recently told the Tribune that police are doing nothing to stop the practice that he estimates has slashed the island’s bonefish stocks by 50 percent during the past five years.

“These last couple of weeks they’ve been hitting us so hard. It’s unbelievable,” said Nevin Knowles, who added that the bonefish are being used as cut bait for yellow tail.

“If this keeps up for five years, our bonefish population in Long Island will be gone,” he added. “They’re using, at the last estimate, a $58,000 bonefish to catch a 90 cent snapper, and they’re killing our industry.

“The tourists go to the Out Islands for the fishing. That’s the only thing that attracts tourists to Long Island. They’re killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.”

More from the Tribune:

Mr Knowles said illegal netting had been occurring for “years and years”, but had become “noticeably worse” in the past few and was now threatening to wipe out bonefish stocks by preventing the fish from spawning.

“The bonefish stocks, every year they’re decreasing,” Mr Knowles told Tribune Business. “In another five years, we’re not going to have any stock. It’s decreased by at least 50 per cent or more over the last five years.”

With fewer bonefish to catch, Mr Knowles said tourists would fail to re-book and not come back if their experiences failed to match expectations.

“You have a guy paying $3,000 a week for an all-inclusive,” he added. “If they’d have come five years ago they’d have caught 15-20 fish a day. Now, they’re catching two-three a day.

He added, “I had some guests that fished last week. We went out on the flats and there were hardly any fish there. We knew someone had been there netting, and can see where the net had dragged on the flats.”

Spawning bonefish

The Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, meanwhile, offers this:

The Bahamas have some of the best bonefish fishing in the world, thanks to many miles of shallow flats, and to a community of fishing guides that act as stewards of the fishery and its habitats. In a study conducted in 2009, during the height of the Great Recession, the recreational fishery for bonefish in the Bahamas had an annual economic impact exceeding $141 million (USD).  With more recreational fishermen traveling today as the economy recovers, that number is certainly higher. The fishery not only supports jobs, but also allows a culture that relies on the sea to continue.

Despite its economic and cultural importance, the fishery faces trouble. The trouble comes in the form of gillnets, resource extraction, and coastal development.

Gillnets:  Despite regulations that prohibit the capture of bonefish with nets, the use of nets to target bonefish is increasing. The most troubling case is on Long Island, where gillnetting on the flats has already negatively impacted the bonefish population, and is threatening the future of the fishery.

Despite these illegal acts being reported by fishing guides and others, enforcement has been lacking. Whether the bonefish are being used for bait or are illegally sold at market, their capture brings significantly less economic value than if those fish remained alive and part of the recreational fishery . . .

In the recent past, similar episodes have been reported on Grand Bahama Island and South Andros. 

Dr. David Philipp, Chair of the Fisheries Conservation Foundation, sums it up well: “Bonefish are very susceptible to capture by netting, and removal of those fish could crush the Long Island bonefish population for years to come. This would destroy an extremely valuable industry that benefits the entire community. Everyone in those communities should act to prevent those irresponsible persons from stealing the Bahamas' natural resources for their own purposes."

Resource Extraction:  The flats of Grand Bahama Island are world-renown for their large and plentiful bonefish. One of the first bonefish lodges in the Bahamas was located on the east end of the island, adjacent to the expansive sand flats that extend for miles to the southeast. This area has been proposed as a National Park to provide protections to the bonefish fishery and other fisheries important to residents.

These sand flats are being proposed as a site for sand mining, with sand dredged to a depth of 16 feet. Of particular concern is the area near Bursus Cay. After a public meeting in McLean’s Town in May 2014, Eric Carey, Bahamas National Trust’s Executive Director noted, "The East End Communities, especially the fishermen, have made a strong case for this proposed national park. Noting the importance of Bursus Cay as to the sustainability of their fishery, and the threat that the proposed dredging represents, they have asked Bahamas National Trust to expand the original proposal, to include this important area."

Coastal Development:  After years of research and working with fishing guides, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust researchers have identified a bonefish spawning location on Abaco. Early data suggest that this may be the only spawning location for bonefish that inhabit the world famous Abaco Marls.

Bonefish that live in the Marls for most of the year migrate to the spawning location each winter, and return to the Marls after spawning. A proposed resort development along the migration pathway and near the spawning site would disrupt spawning, with inevitable impacts to the bonefish population and the fishery.

How you can help:  While the information from the work of BTT and collaborators is essential to enacting conservation strategies for bonefish and their habitats, it is not enough. Your help is needed to ensure a healthy future for the fishery. Visit www.btt.org and Contribute to BTT to help fund the Bahamas Initiative. Write a letter expressing your concerns about the threats to the bonefish fishery.  Email the letters to us, we’ll compile them and present them in the Bahamas. 

Monday
Jul142014

The Magic of Fishing

Fisheries leaders long have known that successful advocacy depends on economic justification. They recognize that recreational fishing’s worth must be proven by the numbers to state and federal decision-makers who authorize and appropriate funds for fisheries and conservation programs.

I understand and support that strategy. Recreational fishing generates more than $125 billion annually in economic output and more than one million jobs. It clearly is worth the money that we invest in it, and that is something that politicians understand.

But you and I both know that angling’s intrinsic value is what keeps us going to the lakes, rivers, and oceans. We fish for fun, to relax, to compete, and to spend quality time with friends and family. We fish to forget. And we fish to remember. We fish to lower our blood pressure. And we fish to raise our adrenaline.

Did you know, though, that fishing also is magic? That probably doesn’t mean much to the politicians who control the purse strings, but parents and volunteers will tell you that fishing works in ways that we can’t quantify to enrich the lives of millions who endure illness, injury and disability. As much as we might think angling means to us, both economically and inherently, it can mean even more to them.

“Fishing and other outdoor activities are a diversion from the reality that they have life-threatening illnesses,” says Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director and organizer of an annual day on the water for children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses at Camp Cavett on Lake Texoma.

“This gives them a chance to be a kid again. It’s amazing how fired up they get to go for a ride in the boat and to go fishing.””

Fishing makes a difference, too, for war veterans who have been wounded and are struggling to adjust to the new reality of their civilian lives.

“We see the benefits over and over,” reports Heroes on the Water, an organization that takes injured warriors fishing in kayaks. It adds, however, that “the rehabilitation aspect was an unintended consequence of helping injured service members.”

Realization of that aspect of the magic occurred with a veteran suffering from traumatic brain injury. He stuttered, would not talk, and wanted to be left alone. He had to be persuaded to get in a kayak for a four-hour outing.

“When we were helping him out, we asked how his morning was,” Heroes says. “For 30 seconds, he was jabbering away, talking about how great kayaking was, how he caught five fish, and how he really enjoyed the time on the water.

“Then he --- and we --- realized he was talking normally.”

For the first time in two years.

The stuttering eventually returned, but the soldier said, ‘Now I know I can do it (speak normally). Now I have hope.”

Fishing and other outdoor activities provide hope for children with autism as well.

“What I’ve discovered about people on the (autism) spectrum is that they are highly institutionalized,” says Anthony Larson, owner of Coulee Region Adventures and father of a 6-year-old with the disability.

Such a lifestyle, he theorizes, puts to “sleep” the part of the brain that makes maps and encourages creativity. Additionally, those on the spectrum often have issues with their body placement, as well as linking their body with their emotions and estimating where they are in time and space.

“So, when children participate in the outdoors, they are using parts of the brain that normally don’t get used, as well as utilizing muscle groups that don’t get used.

“Another benefit to being in the outdoors is exhaustion!” he emphasizes. “It’s a lot of work to be outdoors. And, like I tell my son’s therapists, he can’t fight if he’s tired.”

Eli Delany also noted the therapeutic value of fishing for his son, and that prompted him to found My Little Buddy’s Boat, an autism awareness program now promoted by many of the top professional anglers.

“He loves nature and the boat’s movement and the sensation it gives him,” says Delany. “He really is starting to enjoy the fishing part of it, casting his rod and holding the bass after we catch them.”

And Katie Gage, the mother of two sons with autism, adds this:

“Fishing has proven to be great therapy. They can find peace on the water, and they can connect their love of science and nature and stewardship. No pressure, just fish!”

So . . . you can tell the politicians that angling is worth more than $125 billion annually if you want to. I say that it’s priceless. 

Saturday
Jul122014

“The only thing bad about winning the pennant is that you have to manage the All-Star Game the next year. I'd rather go fishing for three days.” Whitey Herzog

Why We Fish--- Reel Wisdom From Real Fishermen

“Whether I caught fish or not, just the thrill of rolling out that line and watching my fly turn over has been good enough for me. That and the hundreds of treasured memories I have of this wonderful sport.” Curt Gowdy

Thursday
Jul102014

Feds Slash Season for Red Snapper

“Environmental organizations, who have infiltrated our federal government -- they are hell-bent on reducing the fleet of fishermen.” --- Capt. Bob Zales

Back in 2009,  I started warning the nation’s anglers about the dangers posed to the future of fishing by the Obama Administration. Many of those threats center around the National Ocean Council and Catch Shares. But anti-fishing sentiment pervades this administration in general, as Zales, a Florida charter captain, points out in the aftermath of the feds reducing the red snapper season from 40 days to 9.

Zales made the comments in a Fox News article about the closure.

"I already had the boats sold out for the season and then I had to cancel those trips because I couldn't provide the service," added  Capt. Mark Hubbard.

From Fox: “Hubbard and other fishermen point out that the number of red snapper this year is the highest in decades, and say the regulation is purely bureaucratic and not really about protecting fish. The recreational fishing industry employs an estimated 150,000 people along the Gulf and pumps some $7 billion into the local economies, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. In 2012, more than 3.1 million recreational anglers took 23 million fishing trips in the Gulf of Mexico region.”

Here’s what I wrote in February 2010 for ESPN Outdoors:

Environmental groups enthusiastically support federal management of our fisheries, starting with the oceans, coastal waters, and Great Lakes. They now are pressuring President Barack Obama to by-pass Congressional oversight and public discussion and instead issue an Executive Order, endorsing the recommendations of his Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force and creation of a massive federal bureaucracy.

This should come as no surprise, since members in many of these organizations favor creation of “marine protected areas,” where all uses --- including recreational angling --- are banned. Almost certainly they envision these being an integral part of the “spatial planning” strategy created by the task force and to be enforced by a National Ocean Council.

What might come as a surprise, though, is that these same groups produced a “wish list” document, Transition to Green, shortly after Obama’s election. And what has happened since, starting with the President’s creation of the task force, suggests that this special interest group --- with little to no public input --- is controlling public policy on a staggering scale.

Who wrote that document and who is determining the future of fishing in federal waters these days? Here’s the list:

AMERICAN RIVERS - CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL LAW

CLEAN WATER ACTION- DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE - EARTHJUSTICE -

ENVIRONMENT AMERICA - ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE FUND - FRIENDS OF THE EARTH

GREENPEACE - IZAAK WALTON LEAGUE - LEAGUE OF CONSERVATION VOTERS

NATIONAL AUDUBON SOCIETY - NATIONAL PARKS CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION

NATIONAL TRIBAL ENVIRONMENTAL COUNCIL - NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION

NATIVE AMERICAN RIGHTS FUND - NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL - OCEANA

OCEAN CONSERVANCY - PEW ENVIRONMENT GROUP

PHYSICIANS FOR SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY - POPULATION CONNECTION

POPULATION ACTION INTERNATIONAL

RAILS-TO-TRAILS CONSERVANCY - SIERRA CLUB - THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY

THE TRUST FOR PUBLIC LAND - UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS

WORLD WILDLIFE FUND

Wednesday
Jul092014

Anti-Fishing Advocates Take Advantage of Shark Attack

Ken Jones photo of Manhattan Beach pier

Those who want to keep us from fishing are just as relentless as those who want to take away our guns.

That’s why I knew exactly what would happen after a swimmer was bitten by a hooked shark as he swam near a pier where people were fishing.

And it did. Manhattan Beach government officials in the People’s Socialist Republic of California immediately banned fishing on the pier.

Now People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is pushing for a permanent ban. In a letter to the city’s major, it said the following:

“When you consider that in 2012, anglers at the Manhattan Beach Pier reeled in at least four great white sharks on three separate occasions, it seems clear that the best way to protect public safety and reduce the risk that another swimmer will be injured or killed by a panicked or confused shark is to ban fishing at the pier permanently.

“Banning fishing will spare some of the millions of sharks, birds, turtles and other animals who sustain debilitating injuries after swallowing fish hooks or becoming entangled in fishing line every year."

Never mind that the swimmer was largely responsible for the attack. The zealots don’t care about addressing the cause of the incident, any more than they care about preventing future mass murders. They see these tragedies simply as opportunities.

What they care about is imposing their Big Government world view on the rest of us. Admittedly, a ban on fishing probably isn’t in the top five of their wish list. But it’s still there, along with gun control, open borders, public-funded birth control and abortion, and a power grid powered by unicorn farts and other sources of green energy.

PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said this:

“This weekend's incident was painful for both victims — the young shark who struggled for more than 30 minutes while impaled on an angler's hook and the swimmer who had the bad luck to stumble into the shark's path. PETA is calling on the mayor to look out for everyone who wants to enjoy Manhattan Beach, including the sharks who naturally shun human contact and, like humans, rarely attack without provocation.” (Notice use of “who” as a pronoun for sharks to humanize them.)

And in a post about the incident for LA Weekly,  the anti-fishing writer advocates a ban on fishing at all L.A. area piers. He also pointedly described the angler as a “tattooed fisherman.” No attempt to poison the waters for fishermen there, huh?

I don’t know the specifics regarding piers and fishing in California. But clearly swimming and surfing should not be allowed within a couple of hundred yards of piers used for fishing. If that’s not happening now, some sort of system needs to be established to accommodate all users. Possibly that would included designating some piers for fishing and the rest for other uses.

We can all live together peacefully. The problem is that some are willing to do so only by imposing their ideology on the rest of us.