About two weeks ago I received a letter from the Sport Fishing Institute Fund in Washington, D.C., along with a survey.
The "Maryland Charter Captain Survey" was an effort to find out what we captains are thinking, said the Sport Fishing Institute's letter.
Right off, I thought of the old saying: "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you."
The letter said that the SFI study of charter boat captains would help the group "better represent the interests of the charter industry in efforts to make striped bass a game fish."
So that was it -- another rockfish/game fish push.
The survey was salted with loaded questions such as: "Would you be willing to work with other groups to attain game fish status for striped bass?" and "If striped bass are designated as a game fish in the future, how do you feel stocks should be allocated between recreational and charter fishermen?"
The wording sounded similar to the phrases in the rockfish/game fish bill championed by the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association and now before the Maryland General Assembly.
Did MSSA coach the SFI on the survey? If so, why? And how did SFIget my name and address? What was the purpose of the survey? Why didthe SFI want me to fill out the form?
The form did not require a signature. If you wanted a copy of the completed survey report, you could add your address to the survey form.
Then I saw it!
On theback of the return envelope was written in pen the number "142." I checked quickly with two other captains and found they had different numbers.
The SFI had numbered the return envelopes against a set ofnames and addresses. You didn't have to give the SFI your name and address; it would know whose comments were in envelope 142.
The question was: Why? A Maryland Charter Boat Association representative suggested that the Sportfishermen's Association may have given the mailing list to the SFI. The results, if favorable to the sportfishermen,would be an
nounced during the legislative committee hearings on their game fish bill.
The Sportfishermen's Association might tell thelawmakers that some high percentage of charter boat captains supported game fish status for the striped bass based the survey results.
The charter boat association quickly contacted its members and suggested they not respond to the SFI survey.
Last Wednesday I receivedanother letter from SFI, noting my lack of response and saying that my opinion was important so that SFI could assess the opinions and views of all Chesapeake Bay charter boat operators. On the back of my return envelope was "142."
Why is this issue important? Many charter boat operators do not trust the Sportfishermen's Association, believing that once the association has gotten rid of the commercial fishermen with its game fish bill, charter captains are the next target.
Sportfishermen's Association officials have called that logic ridiculous, but some captains are not so sure.
The Sportfishermen's Association is opposed to a spring striped bass fishery; charter captains, for the most part, favor the spring trophy fishery.
Should the MSSA gain control of the striped bass, as some believe they aspire, the group will set seasons, creel limits and size limits for everyone,and the state Department of Natural Resources will no longer be needed.
The SFI appears to be a tool of the sportfishermen's group on this issue, leading one to question its integrity and position on other subjects.
And old "142" is going to keep his opinion to himself, unless SFI coughs up 35 cents to read this.