Note: this was an article I wrote in 2010 concerning Game Fish Statutes for the Redfish in my home state. The Bill Failed. and now is brought back again in 2013 with the same fears and strawmen. it is very much like the current Gun Control issue, create more law to protect against (in this case perceived) threats and unlawful people…like that works ( think gun control). Here, as then it is a mechanism for a money stream and when combined w/ the Ga State Legislature surrendering their control of saltwater in 2012 to career bureaucrats, it further strengthens control of resources over the will of the citizen.
Before I learned to hunt, I learned to fish, .We were members of a community dock on the Skidaway River and before I learned to swim off that dock I was catching fish with my mother. We still have those old pictures. Me with a string of fish and a Mickey Mouse fishing rod, Mom pregnant with my brother and a bandanna in her hair.
We did not catch a lot of redfish in those days. We didn’t know it but you had to get away from the dock and the redfish stocks were not like they are today. Over the years I became familiar with these fish and it was a slow process. I was always limited by something. Lack of tackle, lack of skill, lack of a boat was all factors impeding my catching ability. I never knew I was also working in an environment that was also lacking in Red Fish.
Those days are gone. I now have tackle, I have skill, and thanks to conservation grounded in science, I have plenty of Red Fish to hone my skills on. And in the Wassaw sound that arguably gets the most pressure from fishermen in the state, there are days now that I must return most of my fish to the water as they exceed the 23 inch limits. Returning over-sized fish to the water is fine with me. That’s how Georgia has managed to maintain its stock. By collecting data and adjusting creel and slot limits over the years we have seen a surge in catches. Add in the Federal ban and State release of hatchlings and we really have gone along way from the early years.
But there seems to be some concern among other Georgia fishermen that the current laws are not enough. A group known as Georgia Red Fish .Org has a petition drive to gather signatures to compel the state legislature to give the red fish the status of Game Fish. When I was alerted to this I was a bit confused as I had always thought that they were a game fish because in the DNR regulations they are listed as such. So I went looking for answers.
The first place I looked was their web site. There was their petition seeking to address issues that are already covered by current law: Commercial sale of red fish, the methods of catching red fish, and some fluff about “boosting confidence in the management of the species”.
First, the commercial harvest of red fish in state waters is already regulated.
There is no Federal harvest. The web site had no data on the state commercial harvest of red fish.
Second, the methods used to catch red fish are regulated as well. These are methods the lobby group did not like, but there was no data on the harvest rates of them.
Their third point…” boosting confidence in the management of the species”, I do not understand at all unless it is some contrived attempt to enable politicians to feel better about themselves and voting for the change.
(Note to self: when asking for legislation always include something that allows lawmakers to pat themselves on the back)
Faced with no data supporting Georgia Red Fish.Org’s fears I searched elsewhere and found an article in Georgia Outdoor News. This article was written by GON staff and heavily quotes Spud Woodward, head of marine fisheries management for DNR’s Coastal Resources Division and a member of Georgia Red Fish.Org. In the article Mr. Woodward mentions hearing of possible violations of the red fish regulations, but he provides no data which is a reoccurring theme throughout my search. He does lament the lack of funding to boat more officers to patrol for violations. He suspects that there are fishermen selling unreported catches of red fish from their trucks, but has no data to support it. Mike Duckworth of Brunswick also mentions in this article that the law enforcement section needs to be fully funded and game fish status would be a valuable tool towards that end. What does that mean? To my ears, it sounds like a tax to fund those wants. In this same article, there is the notation that CCA of Ga pursued this status once and failed due to lack of data to show it was warranted.
The next article I found was in TIDES. This article was written by Mr. Woodward and is filled with data on the history of the species, the recovery of the species, and changes in the regulations that brought about that recovery. However when it came to his and Georgia Red Fish.Org’s “concerns”, there was no data provided.
I was becoming increasingly frustrated by the continuing lack of data to support this effort so I registered to Georgia Red Fish.Org and blogged my questions. They remained posted for a few days, and then my questions were scrubbed from the site. I reposted my request for data to support their claims of regulatory abuse…and I was banned from the site. Faced with this I emailed one of their members Captain Greg Hildreth my questions…and got no reply. I called another member Scott Wagner and left a message and have had no reply. So I decided to go to the true authority on the issue, Mr. Woodward.
Mr. Woodward returned my call and answered my questions…and left me with no doubt there was something fishy going on. He specifically told me two times that the DNR was neutral in this lobby effort. He told me there was no data to support the fears of the lobby group either in the alternative methods of harvest or in the perceived abuse of state commercial regulations. This I found disturbing. He did say there was a new study due out this year. I asked if by writing so glowingly of the lobby’s efforts he was giving credibility to their cause. He said “I can see where it could look like that”. He then gave me a line that I had read in one of the articles…”this game fish status would be an important tool for conservation”. I asked if that tool would provide leverage to make it easier to regulate/reduce creel and slot sizes. He said again, “I can see where it could look like that”. I asked if it would be easier to implement a Tax to fund the DNR’s needs with the new status.
He replied, “a tax?”
“Yes, a redfish Stamp to harvest the fish.”
“I can see where it could look like that”.
While not a definitive yes or no, knowing the way government works, and years of parsing political speak, I took that as a yes. It would be easier to enact an additional tax to harvest a fish. That is on top of the tax already charged to fish in state water.
Mr. Woodward was very polite and I do not know if it was his deep voice or not, but he certainly sounded resigned in answering my questions.
( I discovered later via an errant CC on an email the gang at CRD and their friends in Savannah and the State were very disturbed about my inquires and subsequent relaying of information to member of the GA and were pondering what do about me.)
I find this behavior very disturbing. One on the part of special interest lobby groups who seek government action to make it easier for agencies to increase regulation and tax citizens for their programs based on nothing more than concerns.
Second, the actions of Mr. Woodward lend credibility to the lobbies cause. I have a degree in Biology, and somehow I thought that conservation should utilize science as a mechanism to plan and set goals…but here is a “neutral” state agency appearing to work with a private lobby to base conservation planning on speculation and hearsay.
The proponents of this status use words like limit, release, and “redfish are too valuable to catch just once”. As much as it costs to spend a day on the water fishing, I value and want to keep my creel limits. Some fly fishermen love just catching the fish, I take much more enjoyment. Not only do I enjoy catching red fish, I enjoy sharing the meal with my family. I do not want to be reduced to 2 trips to accumulate that meal if there is no data to show that stocks are in decline and require a reduction in creel limits. I do not want an added cost in the form of a red fish stamp.
There is a disturbing trend in the world right now. It is the Management and Art of the Crisis. Everywhere we look the sky is falling and people are telling us rapid action is required and we must be proactive. Action is taxes and new laws to arrest the crisis, proactive in this case means doing something before the facts are found. That is what I see in the Red Fish Crisis. Much like Global warming, the data is incomplete yet there is a clear path to redemption. And along the way the money will flow to those making a living pointing at the sky. Like the anti gun crowd, more law will soothe their concerns but not affect anyone breaking the law. Only those of us that follow the law will be affected.
I take great offence in special interests presuming to know what is best for me and my remaining liberties. I am further appalled by the glossy manner they use to side step facts and utilize fear to aid their cause. Governments tend not to increase freedom. I think great care should be taken before yielding any more to them, especially at the urging of special interests and not the citizens in mass.