Sys­tems Go

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.

Saltwater Sportsman - - Table Of Contents / Departments - GLENN LAW

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.

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