Thursday, October 25, 2007

Striped Bass

The other day President Bush signed an executive order that turned striped bass and red drum into gamefish. There's not much commercial fishing for striped bass as it is (and none in Connecticut or New York) but as I understand it, the executive order means there won't be any in the future either, at least in federal waters.

It's not clear to me why Bush would bother. Striped bass populations are recovering, to say the least, from record low levels 30 years ago and commercial fishermen are essentially small businesses who could benefit if commercial fishing restrictions were lifted. So why make the restrictions permanent?

Bush's action got no publicity up here but was covered further south. The Outer Banks Sentinel, in North Carolina, pointed out that the executive order received strong support froma group called the Coastal Conservation Association. Its chairman seems to be one of Bush's cronies:

Connaughton said the Bush administration has discussed the management of striped bass and red drum with the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) and other recreational fishing interests over the past couple of years. The CCA, an organization of sportfishermen and associated industries, began in Texas in 1977 with a campaign to make red drum, more commonly called redfish along the Gulf of Mexico, and speckled trout gamefish. The organization has secured gamefish status for red drum in all Gulf coast states except Mississippi. Walter Fondren, CCA national chairman, was present at the announcement ceremony in Maryland on Saturday. "This administration's alignment with the CCA and Walter Fondren and other rich Texas oil men doesn't surprise me," said Willie Etheridge, owner of Etheridge Seafood in Wanchese. Fondren's family helped pioneer the oil industry in Texas. "Still, it's mind-boggling that my President would hand over the resource exclusively to the small group of people who fish for striped bass and red drum for fun," said Etheridge.

But my question is does this executive order have any relevance in New York or Connecticut? I'm guessing that the Hudson River and Long Island Sound are not federal waters. The Atlantic probably is but maybe New York controls the waters of the Atlantic close to shore.

Bryan Brown, who used to live on Long Island's north shore but recently moved to Texas, asked me about Bush's order the other day and I responded that it reminded me of the conflict that Peter Mathiessen wrote about in Men's Lives -- essentially a resource allocation conflict. Bryan then Googled it and came up with a chapter from the book (here) that explains some of its history on the east end of Long Island.

Matthiessen was a strong supporter of the commercial fishermen.

This used to be the kind of issue that would engage Riverkeeper and its predecessor, the Hudson River Fishermen's Association. Coincidentally, Matthiessen's son, Alex, is the executive director of Riverkeeper. I can't find anything on the group's website about the issue. But maybe that's because the Hudson isn't federal waters. There's nothing on the Waterkeeper Alliance website either; that's Bobby Kennedy Jr.'s organization and the parent of the various Riverkeepers, Soundkeepers etc.

The best coverage I've seen, by the way, is from the Outer Banks Sentinel, here and here.



Blogger Sam said...

Interesting idea about managing striped bass, which is called "rockfish" up in the Northeast. They're called that because you catch a bunch near ... rocks ... and most of those rocks are within 3 nautical miles of land, defined as state waters (natural resource boundary).

But boy did the rockfish come back! There are so many that they've eaten up all the bait, and some say helped deplete the population of juvenile lobsters. Instead of little 2-foot long stripers sportsmen and women are now finding them up to 4 feet long.

So my question is "Shouldn't they be managed by allowing an annual commercial quota to prevent too large of a population of stripers?"

11:32 AM  
Blogger Terry said...

I have always felt that the fish belong to the people of the nation and that people who don't live near the water should be able to eat the fish. Just like the guy with boat and fishing pole. All fish need to be protected from over exploitation, by any group.

The CCA started in the Gulf, I think Houston that be in Texas. They go the Red fish fishery close to commercial fishing in the Gulf. Granted there were some bad actors in the industry there.

Just another example of the President taking care of the good old rich guys.

7:34 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

Bad actors? Texas used to allow redfish to be taken with huge gill nets that could catch over a ton of fish per net. The nets were only four to six feet tall (the bay is very shallow) but could stretch for hundreds of feet. The CCA was a major factor in prohibiting this practice.

I think what we're talking about up the NE is that if the fishery is sustainable, some commercial fishermen ought to have a quota to fish for stripers (rockfish) with a hook and line, not nets. Stripers are almost considered a pest because they are so thick now.

Anyway, not sure if many people were fishing in federal waters for stripers wintering off the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina, but the Bush rule probably had little if any real effect - as was pointed out. /sam

3:57 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Fee said...

Striped Bass are already protected in federal waters. What Bush proposed did not benefit the bass in any way. Also striped bass are not recovering, they have been declared recovered in 1995, and since the start of this decade, have once again fallen into a state of decline.

1:51 AM  

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