Tomorrow and Tuesday the Maryland Salt Water Sportfishermen's Association will go head to head with the watermen over proposed legislation on rockfish.
The Senate Economic and Environmental Committee will have a hearing on Senate Bill 575, the so-called Rockfish/Gamefish Bill championed by the MSSA. It is a complex bill that, if passed, would prohibit commercial fishing for striped bass by making the striped bass or rockfish a game fish. It would also provide some economic relief for some of the commercial fishermen put out of work.
On Tuesday, the House version, HB 1189, will be heard by the House Environmental Matters Committee. The approach is different, but results are much the same. The bill would outlaw gill nets after August 1994, increase the cost of a commercial fish license to $500, institute a five-year waiting period between when you request and pay for the license and when you get the license, and offer a one-time buy out of commercial rockfish netters.
If HB 1189 passes, Maryland would still have a commercial pound net, fyke net and commercial hook and line striped bass fishery. The potential harvest capability of this fishery would be a small percentage of the gill net fishery.
Two years ago, the MSSA lobbied for a game fish bill, but it died a very quick death in committee. At the time, the Gov. William Donald Schaefer offered luke-warm support to the bill.
Last year Schaefer is rumored to have told the MSSA, 'No game fish bill during an election year,' and there was none.
This year Schaefer is opposing the game fishbill, presumably because he feels his Department of Natural Resources is doing such a good job managing the resource.
I agree with Schaefer on this one. I think the DNR's allocation approach for the recreational, commercial and charter fishing is on target.
A few mistakes have been made, but the managers are learning as they go along. I've said before that I believe Maryland's approach to striped bass management is the only hope for commercial fishing in the United Statestoday.
Wide-open commercial fishing for some ocean species has already been curtailed along the Gulf Coast, and I expect similar actions in Virginia and the Carolinas. And rightfully so. However, as longas the total harvest is managed, I think everyone should have a right to a piece of the action.
I was beginning to think I was the only outdoor writer supporting Maryland's striped bass management plan and opposing the two bills to close down commercial striped bass fishing. I was, therefore, very happy to see that George Reiger, a nationally known outdoor and conservation writer, sprinkle some kind words concerning Maryland's striped bass plan in his March Field and Stream column.
A Maryland Charter Boat Association representative told mehis group is planning to oppose the Rockfish/Gamefish bills because they believe the MSSA has no right to drive someone else off the water. The Sport Fishing Institute is expected to testify that, based on its survey, charter captains do support the bills.
The problem here is the definition of a charter boat captain. Maryland issues Guide Licenses to charter boat captains; it also issues Guide Licenses to people who are not charter boat captains.
I've been told that the MSSA obtained a listing of all those issued a Guide License, which is passed along to the SFI for its survey. I would estimate that approximately half of the people issued or authorized Guide Licenses have nothing to do with the charter fishing industry. So, if SFI claims the majority of the charter boat captains support the bills it is wrong.
The fireworks at the hearings tomorrow and Tuesday will be worth watching. Go early to get a seat.
The MSSA says it wants to create a "world-class fishery" in the Chesapeake Bay. The hang-up is it wants to keep it to itself.
I suspect this subject is important enoughto let your senator and delegates know how you feel about these issues. I wonder if "world-class fishery" is anything like "mother of allfisheries?"
Bob Spore is a Coast Guard-licensed charter boat captain from Pasadena. His Outdoors column appears every Friday and Sunday in the Anne Arundel County Sun.