Acting In The Interests Of The Bay And Its Fishermen

July 10, 1991|By Ann Powers

In the June 28 issue of the Anne Arundel County Sun, outdoors writerBob Spore calls into question the credibility on fisheries issues ofthe Chesapeake Bay Foundation and challenges our expertise.

He argues the CBF has "taken a beating" on two issues -- rockfish and oysters -- and that it should stick to stopping pollution. We disagree onboth points.

Regarding rockfish, Captain Bob is misinformed on CBF's position.He asserts erroneously that CBF opposed last year's reopening of thestriped bass fishery.

As background, CBF has been a consistent supporter of the Striped Bass Management Plan of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission since its adoption in 1981. We believe the plan holds the greatest promise for coordinating all 12 states that harvest Chesapeake rockfish under an effective management regime.

When Maryland went beyond the plan in 1984 and announced the moratorium, we were a key supporter. As a result of Amendment 3 to the ASMFC plan in 1985, all states had to adopt strong conservation measures, complementing Maryland's moratorium, until Maryland's index of spawningsuccess reached a specific target.

The target was reached with anunusually high index in 1989, which was announced at a governor's press conference with CBF present.

We ran a lead story in our newsletter supporting the reopening of the fishery. We were the only conservation organization to do so, and as a point of fact, the sport fishing community had such reservations about the index that it was unableto rally in support.

Many conservationists questioned CBF's support for reopening the striped bass fishery, but our position was basedon a commitment to the long-term best interests of the resource and the fishery, which we believed depended on consistent implementation of the ASMFC plan.

The plan called for a limited fishery, with a specified fishing rate when the index reached the preset target. Underthe ASMFC plan, this "transitional" fishery is prescribed to continue until a second target, involving the stability of the spawning stock, is reached and the population is declared restored. Only at that time will an expanded fishing rate be allowed.

The ASMFC Striped Bass Technical Committee has warned against premature expansion of the fishing rate. Furthermore, we still do not know what last year's fishing rate was. For this reason, CBF opposed the recent addition of a spring fishery in Maryland. We will oppose any other expansions unlesswarranted under the plan.

Captain Bob mocks this viewpoint as outof step. It is out of step with those pushing to liberalize fishing prematurely, but it is the appropriate position for an organization that represents first and foremost the interests of the resource; thatis, the fish themselves.

This is a new role that no one has played in the past and that many, including Captain Bob, seem to misunderstand, but we believe that it is in the best long-term interest of both the fish and the fisherman.

It is an important role that helps to balance other interests in the fishery. This balance between many different viewpoints is what makes the Maryland Striped Bass Advisory Board such an effective body. CBF is proud to chair the board and contribute to its success.

Captain Bob also maligns CBF's recent callfor a three-year moratorium on oyster harvests, which was part of a comprehensive report on the health of the bay. He issued this indictment without having read the report or even having called to inquire about its contents.

Had he read the report, he would have learned that the proposed temporary closure was recommended as part of a massive initiative to restore oysters, including a program to hire oystermen to help in the restoration.

The report provides extensive documentation for the need to conserve oysters to prevent the public fishery from dying out all together. CBF has always said that a moratoriumis a last resort. We recommended one for oysters only after comprehensive research on the subject.

Oyster biologists from universitiesin Maryland and Virginia have said bay oysters are experiencing a brood stock crisis. We are open to any other suggestions for addressingthis emergency. Captain Bob seems to support maintaining the status quo in oyster management, but we believe bold action is necessary to save the fishery.

Captain Bob concludes by saying that CBF should stay out of fisheries management because it is a "tough game," with people's livelihoods at stake.

People's livelihoods and lifestyles are involved in virtually all bay issues. Wetlands protection, land-use control, farm management and industrial pollution are all "tough games" for this reason.

The future of the bay depends on all of us adjusting our ways, but this does not have to mean a loss of livelihood. In fisheries, in particular, effective management will lead to viable fish populations and prosperous fisheries.

Editor's note: AnnPowers is vice president and general counsel of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

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