That haze you see above the White House is from the smoking gun of anti-angling bias.
Most alarmingly, this time the shot was fired at bass fishing.
That’s right. No longer are saltwater anglers the only ones under assault from an administration just beginning its second term. Now the danger has moved inland, and “plausible deniability” is going to be far less convincing with this latest assault.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is encouraging the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to remove size and bag limits for bass in the Columbia and Snake Rivers and their tributaries. Additionally, it says that an alternate proposal to remove daily limits but limit harvest to three fish over 15 inches “would imply a desire by WDFW to maintain a healthy population of large, non-native predators.”
And, no, we must not have that. Never mind that the Columbia River arguably is one of the top two or three smallmouth bass fisheries in the United States.
And never mind that 25 to 30 percent of anglers in the Northwest now fish for non-native warmwater species, including walleye and channel catfish, as well as bass.
“What we’ve seen the last 20 to 30 years is a noticeable shift in anglers who prefer warmwater fish,” says Jeff Dillon of Idaho Fish and Game. “It was 10 percent. Now, on a statewide basis, it’s more than 20 percent and, in some regions (southwestern) it’s closer to a third.”
And never mind that anglers who fish for bass recreationally and competitively support Northwest economies by spending millions of dollars annually on tackle, boats, tow vehicles, and travel.
No, no, we must eliminate these non-native fish, even though they have been established in the rivers for decades and even though no evidence exists that they harm native salmon and trout populations through predation. NMFS Regional Administrator William Stelle Jr. says as much in his letter:
“While it is difficult to quantify the magnitude of predation by these species on salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act, predation by these species was noted as an increasing threat in NMFS’ recent 5-year ESA status reviews.”
He also admits that the outcome from waging war on popular warmwater species is questionable:
“The extent to which a regulation change will affect the harvest of these species and thereby reduce predation rates on at-risk salmon and steelhead population is uncertain . . .”
But, hey, let’s do it anyway, even though stomach surveys of bass show that salmon smolts “don’t even make the top 10” among prey species, according to Mark Byrne, conservation director for the Washington B.A.S.S. Nation.
In truth, dams, development, and agriculture have caused the decline of coldwater fisheries by destroying habitat, degrading water quality, altering flows, and blocking migrations. But bass and bass anglers are high profile and easy targets.
No, no bias here.
Just as there is not in the National Ocean Policy, which would “zone” uses of our oceans and Great Lakes, telling us where we can and can’t fish. Just as there is not in heavy-handed enforcement of the Magnuson-Stevens Marine Fishery and Conservation Act, which has devastated coastal fishing communities. Just as there is not in Catch Shares, a scheme to privatize a public resource and, inevitably, limit access.
In truth, none of these are directly anti-fishing. Neither is the NMFS letter. But what all of them reveal is a disregard for the popularity and importance of recreational fishing and a willingness for sportfishing to be collateral damage in the imposition of a preservationist ideology.
President Obama, meanwhile, told Keep America Fishing:
“My administration is committed to maintaining fishing opportunities for America’s fishermen.”
But that does not seem to be the case for the National Park Service, which has limited angler access at Cape Hatteras National Seashore and now is attempting to do the same at Florida’s Biscayne National Park.
And it certainly does not seem to be the case for the National Marine Fisheries Service, which would like to obliterate one of the nation’s best bass fisheries.
Someone probably should tell the President that.
(A variation of this opinion piece appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)