Editor's note: In an effort to alert anglers to the danger that their freedom to fish will be taken from them, BASSMASTER and several other magazines have agreed to run the following column by Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association (ASA). In it, he discusses one of ASA's many ongoing conservation missions: to prevent creation of additional no-fishing zones (also known as marine protected areas) in U.S. coastal waters. Contact Nussman by calling ASA headquarters in Alexandria, Va., (703) 519-9691, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If successful in banning fishing in coastal waters, anti-fishing groups could easily turn their attention and fat coffers to inland fisheries. To learn more about the movement to create no-fishing zones, go to:
Just about everybody is familiar with the bizarre antics of radical groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). PETA's agenda is simple, but devastating in its consequence: Stop all fishing, outlaw dogs and cats as family pets, and strip the evil human population of all leather goods.
While PETA has gained notoriety for its movement, other groups with equally radical agendas are moving in a quieter and more effective manner to accomplish goals that, while somewhat different, are equally at odds with truth and reason. Right now, extremist environmental groups are waging a subtle battle in California and other states for the public's premier coastal recreational areas. Within the past year, schemes have been hatched that would shut down more than 60 percent of Southern California's best sportfishing grounds.
This anti-fishing campaign didn't start in California, and it won't end there. Already, no-fishing proposals have circulated throughout New England, Florida and other parts of the Southeast. It's just a matter of time before these well-organized and richly financed groups tell you that you're no longer welcome in your public waters.
These groups, in an ever-expanding campaign to increase membership and advance their misguided agenda, have said to heck with America's 12 million saltwater anglers (not to mention the rest of the public). The Ocean Conservancy, for one, proclaims that large swaths of ocean should be turned into "ocean wilderness areas" where no one but a privileged few should tread.
There's nothing wrong with the concept of protecting ocean areas, but they should be modeled after our terrestrial system of national parks, where public recreation is allowed, but commercial exploitation is not. Some of the nation's best freshwater fishing occurs in our national parks, wildlife refuges and national forests.
We all want our oceans teeming with fish. They say the best way to do that is to keep you — the public — out. They ignore the effectiveness of proven conservation tools like bag limits, size limits and seasonal restrictions — tools that have returned abundant striped bass, redfish and white sea bass to our coasts. They also fail to appreciate the fundamental difference between a family fishing on a Saturday afternoon and a factory trawler indiscriminately dragging the sea floor for months on end.
The groups pushing to ban recreational fishing along thousands of miles of our nation's coasts will succeed with their radical agendas — unless we unite. Every real conservationist, whether or not he or she is a recreational fisherman, needs to get involved. We're not going to convince the radical elements to change their ways. They're organized, they have money and they have an agenda.
However, these groups can't keep out the public on their own. They need to get key policymakers to implement their agenda. You can stop these groups from having their way by making sure that your elected officials and your state's fish and game department hear your voice. As a first step, go to www.FreedomToFish.org and tell them that you will not be kept out by narrow-minded environmental extremists.
Tell them to protect the fish and your freedom to fish!