First came man, then another, then another, and then came politics.
I suppose you can find politics in everything you do if you look hard enough. But for the poor beleaguered rockfish, you don't have to look hard at all.
By now, I'm certain most readers are aware that the Department ofNatural Resources and the Striped Bass Advisory Board are attemptingto complete regulations for the fall rockfish season.
The action must be concluded quickly because meetings are scheduled with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission committees who must approve the regulations. If the regulations don't have time to get through the state red tape, they become emergency regulations, and that ushers in another set of problems. So the idea is to get this thing finalized.
That's all well and good, but the SBAB came up with proposals that gave certain politically appointed DNR managers concern. In my opinion, Jim Peck, deputy secretary for Natural Resources, and Paul Masicott, administrator for the Tidewater Administration, convinced Secretary Torrey Brown that the DNR should come up with its own proposal for the fall rockfish season and override the SBAB.
In its haste to put something together for the striped bass public meeting Wednesday, the DNR never discussed this issue with the SBAB. Many of the board members learned of it only when it appeared in the press.
Now, put yourself in the board members' position. They have been working hard for the past eight or nine months to come up with a program that will address all the user groups, and the DNR pulls the rug out from under them. Many nasty calls were made to Brown and others (probably even to Gov. William Donald Schaefer).
The DNR tried to recover lost ground by conducting an emergency SBAB meeting the night before thepublic meeting. The DNR planned to quash the rebellion and whip the troops into shape. It sent down its big guns, the comedy team of Peckand Paul (Jim Peck and Paul Masicott) to tell the SBAB how things were.
The SBAB was not amused and
politely told the gentlemen that the board was standing by its proposed plan and that the DNR actions were fostering ill will among the striped bass user groups.
The message came through loud and clear. I don't know whether it was received and carried back.
One of the serious issues of this exercise is that the senior DNR management did not accept input from its own staff.
Pete Jensen, director of Fisheries for the Tidewater Administration, and his staff work directly with the SBAB. Jensen and several of his staff members attend the SBAB meetings to provide information and guidance to the board members. You could almost call Jensen a non-voting member of the SBAB.
However, because the proposed plan might contain perceived inequities among user groups, prompting nasty phone calls, senior DNR management is suggesting a different approach, as if Jensen and his staff did not understand real-world problems.
Wednesday's striped bass public meeting was anticlimactic because hardly anyone attended. The only people to show up were the same oneswho attend the SBAB meetings, plus four or five additions.
Jensenhad planned an ASMFC informational briefing, but it was not needed because we had heard it all before.
Three people made public comments. Dave Wharton, a retired DNR biologist and fisheries manager, stated that the experienced recreational fisherman, like himself, was not getting a good break under the SBAB fall recreational fishing plan.He asked why anglers in other states should harvest hundreds of pounds of more rockfish than Maryland recreational anglers.
Capt. George Prenant, president of the Maryland Charter Boat Association, stated that the association was opposed to the alternative DNR proposal.
And I said that I support the work that the SBAB had done. I also said for the record that I was appalled that senior DNR management didnot support the efforts of Pete Jensen and his staff on the SBAB plan.
The DNR should make its decision early next week regarding the fall striped bass season. Will it go with the SBAB proposal or its own? Tune in next week.
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.