It’s been a brutal winter, and it may not be over yet, but springtime is definitely on the way, and fish are on the move.
We look at this as a time of change and transition, a time when striped bass and kingfish highlight the action on the East Coast, and they are moving for one reason, and that’s to eat. Important forage species, which we focus on this month, represent an integral part of the spring migration.
When we hunt up a striper or a cobia or a kingfish, we’re targeting the higher end of the food chain, but without the lower rungs, we wouldn’t have fish to catch.
This simple fact became quite evident in Florida in the ’90s, ancient history now, when the traditional gill-netting of mullet along the coasts and in inshore waters was shut down. The fishing rebounded in Florida. Both the reduction in mullet populations and the deadly bycatch had taken a toll for years on our fisheries, and when it came to an end, we enjoyed an entirely different, though not unexpected, equilibrium in the nearshore systems in the abundance of predators and prey. Anglers benefitted, of course, but so did the general health and balance of our marine environment and all that entails.
Granted, that was an issue in southern waters, but northern climes have their issues as well. From Georgia north, menhaden — another migration we take a look at in this issue — replaces mullet as the primary forage species.
Any serious striper fisherman knows the role menhaden play in our inshore fisheries. Unfortunately, the powers that be in fisheries management seem to have not gotten the picture.
At the end of last year, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission decided to continue managing menhaden as a stand-alone species for extraction, as opposed to a management plan that would take into account the role this vital species fills in the ecosystem, i.e., as food for a variety of marine mammals and fish, and our stripers.
This approach is shortsighted. Every fisherman knows that just as you can’t catch fish if you don’t have bait, you won’t have fish to catch if you don’t have forage.
Our focus in this issue on the various fisheries that rely on healthy menhaden stocks should drive that point home.
We don’t pursue the fish we seek out of context. When we hit the water, we enter a complex ecosystem, with the predators we target the most obvious expression of the health and balance of that environment.
These systems demand our attention and, ultimately, our protection and conservation.
But shortsighted management is rampant of late.
In the Pacific, the world’s largest salmon run is currently at risk with the revitalization of the Pebble Mine project in Alaska, which would open the Bristol Bay watershed to mining. It’s a complex issue on one hand, and a simple one on the other. Interests as disparate as the people of Alaska, former Environmental Protection Agency directors and Tiffany & Co., which would ostensibly benefit from the gold to be extracted, oppose the project. Risk to the resource aside, this prime fishery represents 14,000 jobs and a $1.5 billion-per-year economy.
This battle was fought and won and put to rest in 2014. Even Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, who wasn’t especially known as a rabid environmentalist, declared Pebble Mine “the wrong mine for the wrong place.”
But the site was recently reopened for permit application by Scott Pruitt, administrator of the EPA, after a meeting with the head of the Pebble Mine project.
Quite simply, this can’t end well for the fish, and we too will suffer the consequences if it’s allowed to happen.
The point here is, with our focus on the migrations, we take on a broader view, a wider appreciation of the intricacies of saltwater fishing, and with it, an increased responsibility for vigilance in preserving what we have.