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Congress Aims to Protect Anglersí Freedom to Fish
By Captain Dave Sutton 

Public access to the nationís oceans and coastal resources is being seriously threatened by the increased use of marine protected areas. In response, the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) worked closely with congressional leaders on legislation to protect Americaís 12 million saltwater anglers. Late last week, Senators John Breaux (LA) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) reintroduced this legislation as the Freedom To Fish Act (S.1314). 

From California to Florida, no fishing zones are increasingly becoming the marine resource management tool of choice. While recreational anglers account for just two percent of all fish landed in U.S. ocean waters, some environmental groups are calling for sport fishing to be eliminated ion anywhere from five to twenty percent of U.S. coastal waters. These arbitrary figures have nothing to do with good science contend the proponents of the Freedom To Fish Act.

The proponents are arbitrarily closing off these waters should be ashamed of themselves for short changing Americaís conservation-minded anglers, says Mike Nussman, ASA vice president. Many no-fishing zones ban recreational fishing even when science clearly shows that anglers are not causing a problem to the resources. Thatís just not smart management.

Nussman goes on to point out that recreational anglers are already by a strict set of regulations ranging from closed seasons to catch limits to size limits and when enforced correctly, these regulations have proven to be effective at ensuring healthy fish stocks. 

Time and area closures can be effective management tools when based on good scientific data, said David Cummings, President of CCA, but arbitrary restriction of recreational anglers merely displaces fishing effort, increases regulatory confusion, increases user group conflicts and cast doubt on the entire fishery management process. It is a disservice to all U.S. citizens. 

Blanket marine closures take away the single most important element to sport fishing the publicís acess to the water. The Freedom To Fish Act would establish common sence guidelines and safeguards to preserve the publicís freedom to use and enjoy these resourses. 

According to the legislation, only in those cases where recreational fishing has demonstrated adverse affects could be a specific, well-defined area be closed. Further, once established targets are achieved, that area would reopen immediately to recreational anglers. Restricting public acess to our coastal waters should not be our first course of action, but rather our last, concluded Senator Breaux. 

In the eyes of this angler/guide, I feel a major relief over this subject. The banning of recreational fishing should be a last ditch effort to allow the stabilization of a resource. With the help of the CCA and the ASA we are seeing our voices herd in Washington through our elected officials. Lets keep the pressure on till the Freedom To Fish Act is passed. We as anglers can no longer just be fisherman; we are the watchdogs of our precious resource. 

Capt. Dave Sutton

 

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