Bush supports fish, fowl

President uses bay visit to announce conservation measures

October 21, 2007|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,sun reporter

President Bush traversed the Chesapeake Bay on an invigorating fall morning yesterday, announcing conservation measures for migratory birds while on the west side of the waterway and for striped bass on the east before getting in some fishing himself.

At the national Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, the president promoted policies he said would protect habitat for 800 bird species that need resting places as they fly south for the winter and return when warm weather returns.

After a helicopter ride to St. Michaels, Bush unveiled an initiative to make red drum and striped bass, known locally as rockfish, more available to sport fishermen but less accessible as a commercial catch. Chesapeake watermen, who rely on the fish for income, are cool to the proposal.

Bush seemed particularly enthusiastic about spending an hour fishing for striped bass off the tip of Tilghman Island before heading for lunch at the St. Michaels vacation home of Vice President Dick Cheney.

The president's chopper landed on the lawn of the Inn at Perry Cabin, a luxury spa and resort on the edge of the waterfront town that draws weekend crowds to its antiques shops and restaurants.

Onlookers waved along the barricaded streets as a motorcade carried the president to Cheney's waterfront home after the fishing trip.

First lady Laura Bush accompanied her husband to the Eastern Shore, but she did not stop at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum or go fishing. Instead, she headed directly to the Cheney home.

"I guess you could say she's the taster," Bush told an audience gathered at the museum.

Maryland crab cakes were on the menu for the Bush-Cheney lunch, and no other guests were invited, the White House said. The president and Laura Bush took a tour of the grounds before returning to Washington in the early afternoon.

Earlier, the president signed an executive order on fish conservation at the maritime museum, where he said he was looking forward to a quick fishing trip.

"There's nothing like catching a big striper," the president said, minutes before hopping aboard Semper Fidelis III, a vessel captained by Ed O'Brien, vice president of the Maryland Charter Boat Association.

Bush joked that it was "good news" that there was decent fishing nearby, because "the Secret Service won't let me go hunting" with Cheney, who accidentally shot a friend during a 2006 hunting trip.

The only catch during the excursion, however, was made by Melissa Fischer, co-host of the ESPN show Offshore Adventures, which was filming the president. She landed an 18-inch bass and tossed it back, O'Brien said in an interview.

Bush proclaimed his passion for sport fishing at the maritime museum. The executive order he signed yesterday encourages states to declare rockfish and red drum "game fish," meaning commercial fishermen could not sell them.

Rockfish stocks collapsed in the early 1980s because of overfishing and degraded habitat, but rebounded after a fishing moratorium. About three-quarters of the East Coast's striped bass use the Chesapeake as a nursery. Red drum, common in the Gulf of Mexico and southern coastal waters, were depleted more recently, a result of their popularity on restaurant menus.

U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, an Eastern Shore Republican who joined Bush at the museum, called the new policy a "bold initiative" to bring attention to over-fishing and pollution issues.

But state regulators from Maryland and elsewhere question the need for the new policy. States will be unlikely to give up their right to regulate fishing in their waters, said Dennis Abbott, a New Hampshire lawmaker and member of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which sets limits on striped bass. Squeezing commercial fishing also hurts the public, he said.

"If commercial fishing shuts down, how would the general public have a chance to have a striped bass dinner?" Abbott asked.

Bush began the day on the edge of Cash Lake in the wildlife refuge along the Patuxent River, holding one of about 100 screech owls kept at the facility for testing of West Nile virus and other illnesses.

"Pretty awesome-looking stare," the president said of the owl, before taking a short stroll on a path near the lake and making his announcement of new habitat policies.

The president wants to use a credit-trading system to encourage private landowners to maintain bird habitat.

In St. Michaels, Bush invoked the writings of 17th-century explorer John Smith, who described a bay so plentiful that "a man could cross over the water `dryshod' by walking on the backs of all the fish," the president said.

Bush said he hoped conservation policies could bring back populations so that "our children and grandchildren will see oceans, lakes and rivers teeming with fish and sea life.

"I can't guarantee they're going to be able to walk across their backs, like John Smith observed," Bush said. "But I can guarantee that we're committed to taking care of that which we have been given."

david.nitkin@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Candus Thompson contributed to this article.

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