NO! Wait!!! Don't close this page and move on to something else... this is important, I promise. You might not go fishing, but certainly you eat fish, don't you? Even if you don't, you must know someone who does.
Last year, we spent a few days in Acadia, Maine. Everywhere you went, there was lobster-something-or-other. Lobster bisque, lobster rolls, lobster salad, boiled lobster -- well, you get the idea. Not surprisingly, we also saw lots of lobster trap and lobster boats.
Living near the coast in Massachusetts, we certainly have a lot of lobster things, including lobster boats... but we also have a lot of fishing boats. But in Acadia it struck us that - whether sitting in a restaurant with a water view, or being on the boat doing the sightseeing tours of the puffin nesting areas - there was nary a fishing boat in sight. Yes, that's right. Nary, is in less than a few, as in not a single one. We didn't even see anyone fishing from shore.
So we asked one of the locals about the lack of fishing, and we were told a very sad story. You see -- many years ago, fish such as cod and haddock and halibut had been very plentiful in that particular port. But then the commercial fisherman came through the area, dragging their nets. Nope - it's not what you think - it's not that they overfished the area, it's that their dragging nets destroyed the eelgrass beds and other seagrass beds. Without the eelgrass and other seagrasses, little fishes had nowhere to hide from predators, and all fishes were missing an important food source. The commercial fisherman were following all regulations, but their legal fishing had some serious consequences. As a result of this, today there is no fishing in Southwest Harbor - not because of any regulations, but because there are no fish.
This year, there have been quite a number of changes in both the state and federal fishing regulations for the waters off of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and southern Maine. Let me share just a few of them with you. For recreational fisherman, we are not allowed to fish for any cod at all -- that's right, ZERO. If we catch a cod fish by mistake, we must throw it back, as we are not allowed to have any in our possession. We can still catch and keep haddock, but the limit is reduced to three fish per person, and the minimum size is increased to 21 inches We can catch striped bass, and the minimum size is still 28 inches, but the limit is reduced from two, to one.
But that's the regulations for recreational fisherman... those of us who stand onshore, or on our boats, holding a fishing rod. The regulations for commercial fisherman are quite different.
Commercial fisherman are allowed to keep as many haddock as they can catch, and the minimum size is 18 inches. Yes, that's right. All those 18, 19, and 20 inch haddock that I have to throw back, they get to keep. But they can only keep cod if they're at least 19 inches long, and they can only keep 200 pounds, so that sounds fair, right?
You see...cod and haddock are generally found together. When I am fishing for a haddock and I accidentally catch a cod, I remove the hook from the fish's mouth, and throw it back.... and nearly all the time the fish will swim away, none the worse for wear. And if the fish does die, at least I've only killed one fish at a time. But when a commercial fisherman --- fishing with nets --- is fishing for their unlimited number of haddock, they are also fishing for their 200 pounds of cod. Once they reach their limit of cod, they keep fishing for haddock, of course. And they continue to catch cod in those same haddock-catching nets. They must throw the excess cod back, of course... but by the time they've sorted through their catch, separating the keeper haddock from the throw-back cod, and they then throw back those excess cod, a significant portion of those cod don't survive.
I suspect that if I were to go fishing every day during the cod-fishing season, and catch - and keep - let's say 3 cod per day... that would be a pittance compared to the number of cod killed by one commercial fishing boat in one day, even when the commercial fishing boat complies with all regulations.
Nothing that I've told you is a secret, and none of the arguments I've made are unique. The regulators will tell you that it's important to let the commercial fisherman stay in business, and they'll tell you if the commercial fisherman go out of business there will be a serious shortage of fish at the retail level. I wonder what the residents of Southwest Harbor, Maine think of that argument.
Fishing regulations should be far more complex than a minimum size for fish, and the number of fish you keep. There is supposed to be a 'management' aspect to the fishing regulations... and I'm not seeing much management of the overall fishing situation. You can't just manage those who are fishing... you have to manage the environmental consequences of the fishing regulations.
But then -- no one asked me what I thought. In fact no one I know was asked what they thought. You see, these regulations were imposed as 'emergency' regulations, so there were no public hearings held before the regulations were implemented.
As I do for all emergencies, I'm going to have a cup of tea. It won't change any of the regulations, but it might make me feel better.