Whose Fish Are They?Congratulations to Dale Dirks for his...

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June 10, 1995

Whose Fish Are They?

Congratulations to Dale Dirks for his excellent letter May 27. For reasons obscured by time and tradition, anti-commercial-fishing sentiment is rarely published in Maryland, although such sentiments are quite strong in a large percentage of Marylanders.

Let's look at some of the reasons for anti-commercial (anti-net) fishing sentiment:

* They are the good people who have exploited the natural stocks of sturgeon to the point where they virtually don't exist in the Chesapeake, made American and hickory shad and herring almost extinct, took us to the brink of extinguishing our beloved rockfish and put the viability of yellow perch, bluefish, trout and flounder in question.

* In Virginia's portion of the Chesapeake, they dredge hibernating crabs out of winter hiding places, strip "sponge" crabs (pregnant females) of their eggs to make them salable and have all but netted-out the menhaden that enter the bay, on which crabs and many species of fish feed extensively. Is it any wonder the crab population is facing collapse?

* The commercial fishers reap what they don't sow and, in fact, have done nothing to propagate or promote the recovery of damaged stocks. They simply take, take, take -- and develop new ways of doing it faster. (For example, the new multifilament nets Mr. Dirks wrote about.) This is not frontier America where land, game, fish and other resources can simply be grabbed for exploitation.

Ah, but if we stop the netters, thousands will lose their jobs! Not so. Less than 500 netters are actively working the entire bay.

And we sadly read of many more people than that losing their jobs at Goddard Space Center, Westinghouse, etc. A fickle economy is a fact of life.

Just as the high-tech workers will find new jobs, the netters can move into charter fishing, aquaculture and many other aspects of Maryland's multi-billion dollar marine industry.

Won't we lose fish as a staple in our diet if the netters are stopped? Absolutely not. The majority of our store-bought fish are imports or grown by aquaculture. In fact, most of what's left Maryland's fish are commercially harvested, exported and never reach our tables.

In contrast to the rape of Maryland's resources by a few netters, sportfishing on the Chesapeake is a billion dollar a year asset to the state.

Thanks to the Wallop-Breaux Act, millions of dollars collected by the federal government in taxes on sportfishing equipment are returned to the state to propagate stocks of endangered fish, study and rehabilitate fish habitat, and in general promote a healthy fishery.

Maryland's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) collects millions more in licensing fees, which it uses to actively regulate the sportfishing industry. Yet DNR is very casual about regulating the netters.

When all the factors governing Maryland's wild fish are weighed, I have to ask, whose fish? The obvious conclusion, if we want Maryland to have fish, is to stop the netters, the seiners, the dredgers, the purse netters, and above all the entanglement (gill) netters.

Chuck Powers

Reisterstown

Will's Stand on Term Limits

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In his column on term limits (Opinion * Commentary, May 24), George Will tries to make something of the fact that Justice Anthony Kennedy, who opposes term limits, occupies the seat for which term limits supporter Judge Robert Bork was nominated.

Mr. Will can't seem to get a grip on the reason the Senate rejected Judge Bork; that he was so arrogant as to be lacking in "judicial temperament." Mr. Will wants us to believe that because the Senate erred in not seeing confirmation as an empty formality, Justice Kennedy was obligated to vote the way Mr. Bork would have.

Mr. Will also makes the argument, subtly here and more blatantly in earlier columns, that we should enact term limits because the people want them.

This raises a conundrum: Why should we trust the people when they won't trust themselves? Term limits are inherently anti-democratic, no matter how many voters support them.

How would a supporter of limits handle this argument?: Massachusetts residents keep electing Ted Kennedy because they think he does a good job, and they want term limits to make North Carolina elect someone to Massachusetts' liking.

North Carolinians keep electing Jesse Helms because they think he does a good job, and they want term limits to force Massachusetts to elect someone to their liking. They would answer that incumbents acquire an unnatural advantage in name recognition and fund-raising that makes it harder to defeat them.

Now, we're talking real issues. These problems can be attacked directly by a different proposal: public campaign financing.

A famous statement (falsely attributed to Lincoln) says, "You can't build the poor up by tearing the rich down." Communism has collapsed in Europe because it restricted the rewards a person could earn. It tore the rich down.

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