Fish Wars: Recreational and Commercial Fishermen Clash Over Striped Bass

This will be a rare non-shark post, but I think it will cover an issue that permeates throughout fisheries management regardless of which species you’re focused on (maybe not so much spiny dogfish: rec and commercial fishermen alike aren’t huge fans of them).  I’ve heard from friends on the front lines about the complete and utter lack of love lost between recreational and commercial fishermen in North Carolina.  I’ve even written about it before (and it’s also been covered at Southern Fried Science).  However, last week I attended a striped bass advisory council meeting as part of a class, and personally witness what I was assured was a “relatively calm” exchange between fishermen on the commercial and recreational sides of the striper stock, and I can honestly say that “no love lost” is quite the understatement.

Unexpectedly, the commercial interests at this meeting were largely made up of gillnetters targeting flounder.  Gill netters have been hit pretty hard by stiff (and controversial) regulations on when and where they can fish their gear, which were motivated by the need to protect sea turtles.  However, this particular meeting was concerned with reducing striped bass bycatch in the flounder fishery, which was accomplished by establishing a line at the mouth of the Pamlico river, beyond which gill nets couldn’t be set.  Unfortunately for the commercial fishermen, most of the flounder are found on the river side of that line.  The gill netters were interested in reaching a sort of compromise that would involve moving the line upriver during times when striped bass wouldn’t be common in the area.  A relatively low rate of striper bycatch was also cited by the flounder fishermen.

Despite this, any sort of compromise initially seemed completely unacceptable to the recreational representatives, who seemed to be unwilling to allow even a single striped bass into a gill net, and actually proposed a measure that would practically eliminate gillnetting in the area altogether.  Eventually a compromise was reached, but I was struck by the outward hostility towards the commercial fishermen shown by the recreational anglers.

Though commercial fishermen are far from innocent when it comes to overharvesting, and sometimes have spectacular losses in the PR arena, there really does seem to be something to the hearsay that the recreational fishery is trying to push them completely out of the water.  A lot has been said about how fisheries are a common resource and (in a perfect world) should be managed as such.  That said, there do seem to be some extremists among the recreational community that want to monopolize some species for themselves only.  Though I’m definitely not a fan of indiscriminate gear like gill nets and trawls, I ended up leaving that particular meeting with a bad taste in my mouth about the motivations of recreational side.

Granted, this is an example from one meeting, but what I’ve heard from others who go to these things regularly is that this sort of conflict is more the rule than the exception.  I’ll get another look at this firsthand when I head to the ASMFC meeting in New Bern (for the same class).  Should be eye-opening.

Dammit, I want to go fishing on weekends and eat local seafood.  Can’t we all just get along?