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Can We Stop No Fish Zones?

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No Fish Zones (NFZ) are cropping up or being considered by virtually every coastal state in America. Vast areas of open ocean, bays, estuaries, and coastal rivers are all being considered for closure not only to fishing, but in some cases for closure to all human presence. All of this is presumably to protect marine life and revitalize fish populations. In one very controversial case in Florida it is to protect the manatee.

Over the years, people have become smarter and smarter. We learn from generation to generation, and we take what we learn and put it to use. We learn better conservation measures. We learn that depleting the environment of any of our resources is the wrong thing to do.

Unfortunately, many organizations have learned over the past several years that direct confrontation on any issue is the wrong way to have their story heard.

I won’t disagree that many of our fish populations have declined over the years. Selfish anglers coupled with poor game and fish management allowed that to happen. I also won’t disagree that steps need to be taken to allow stocks of depleted fish to return to viable numbers.

In the areas where sensible regulations have been initiated and enforced, fish stocks have thrived, and are at higher levels now than twenty years ago. Net bans and restrictions in a number of states have helped this effort, even with the outlaw commercial anglers who still operate under cover of darkness.

The result in my mind is that sensible regulation works! Where enforceable rules are in place – and being enforced – fish stocks are healthy and growing. I am convinced that a majority of the effort to close whole areas to fishing is a new ploy by the “antis”. Where direct confrontation and literal lawless behavior has failed in the past, political astuteness and cunning are making their mark.

Organizations similar to PETA, who’s stated goal it is to eliminate all fishing, are now working the lobby circuit I state house and Washington. Politicians not familiar with game and fish management who, either because they are seeking votes or are just plain gullible, are beginning to waffle. The emotional pleas made by these groups, at first glance plausible but totally irrational, are beginning to be heard.

It’s time for everyone to take a stand and make your voices heard. Sitting back and telling yourself that the “antis” won’t get anything past will not work. In Florida, under the banner of saving the manatee, PETA and other groups have successfully had laws passed which eliminate not only fishing, but any human activity. Other areas have so many restrictions that anglers have to fish somewhere else. California is facing the closing of almost 50% of its offshore waters to angling - even catch and release. By taking the high road and backing a controversial and emotional issue like manatees, they are reaching their goal.

Wake up people! Your kids and their kids won’t be able to fish anywhere if you sit back and watch. Get involved. Join and support organizations like Coastal Conservation Association that are actively working with legislators and biologists to manage and grow the fish populations with common sense. Believe it or not, time is running out.

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