Decision time. Which would you rather do: gun waterfowl or catch a rockfish.
Next weekend, you have to choose -- and both honkers and rockfish appear plentiful.
Late yesterday afternoon, the Department of Natural Resources LTC decided to reopen the rockfish charterboat season Oct. 15-16, which by coincidence is the first weekend of Maryland's Canada goose shoot that opens Tuesday.
It was after a DNR review that it was decided charters fell 10 percent shy of their quota of 161,206 pounds. The season, which was scheduled to continue through Monday, was aborted Oct. 29 because preliminary figures indicated charters had exceeded their quota.
DNR's decision -- which allows two fish a day -- undoubtedly will rouse ire among some in the recreational fishery, but really it had no choice. We are committed to a quota system -- and the latest figures indicate charters didn't reach it, thus are entitled to get the rest of their fish. And their business.
Yet there is a troubling aspect. Figuring certainly wasn't helped by the failure of many charter skippers to turn in their required catch reports on time, though regulations provide for them to lose out on their fishing for such infractions. Perhaps DNR should be more hard-nosed in handling such tardiness.
Participating in a special fishery carries obligations, and those who don't carry them out don't belong in that fishery. Enough said.
Meanwhile, recreational anglers get their last shot at rock today through Sunday. Statistics indicate their catch last weekend was below that expected -- undoubtedly because participation was limited. However, it is unlikely that another extension will be offered.
As for the goose hunt, past critics of DNR owe the department an apology for all the ruckus they raised several years ago when the cutbacks in shooting started. The bottom line is that we bit the bullet, spared geese, and as we go into the '91 season, the outlook is better than it has been since populations commenced their nose dive.
We were told better nesting conditions in the Far North would also help -- and apparently we had them, which combined with reduced gun mortality the past several years, has resulted in an awful lot of honkers on the Eastern Shore. In addition, many of the new arrivals are birds of the year to back speculation that nesting success improved.
In Delaware where gunners bit the bullet even harder after years of 90-day seasons with a bag of four a day, Canadas also show improvement. Last year's October inventory showed 33,000 honkers there; last month it was 53,000, which sounds splendid until one is reminded that in the mid-1980s it was up around 130,000.
Delmarva is bounding back, but the recovery won't be an overnight accomplishment. Maryland's inventory is under way now, and the figures -- expected to show at least a moderate increase -- should be available next week.
Delaware's split season doesn't open until Nov. 25, is only a 40-day affair, and a bag limit of one holds throughout. In Maryland, we have a bag limit of one through Nov. 29, then two from Dec. 9 through Jan. 18.
The bag limit of one stings outfitters hard. Most parties are delaying reservations until the two goes into effect. In 1985, Kennedyville outfitter Floyd Price, who runs the biggest operation on Delmarva, had 171 hunters booked for the opener. As of last night, he had three parties signed up -- and 42 guides available.
Kent County appears to have the most birds, and it should. Thereabouts there are 80,000 acres of corn, 20,000 of soybeans and another 20,000 of wheat. But, Price is concerned about the population explosion of snow geese, which are devouring crop set-asides and scatterings normally utilized by honkers.
"I have never seen so many snow geese so early," griped Price. "It's like half of the 100,000 snows they counted in Delaware come here to feed during the day. The snow goose season is already under way, but they are not as much of an attraction as in Delaware because of the difficulty in luring them within range."