Site by N.E. Stolpe

Number 5
February 9, 1999

Link to NJ Fishing Consumer Alert page Link to NJ Fishing Consumer Alert page


"Conservation" is the controlled use and systematic protection of natural resources

At the end of the 19th and into the early 20th centuries people of the stature of John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Henry Beston were redefining the word "conservation" and establishing a new, and at the time revolutionary, way of thinking about humankind and our relationship to the natural world. In reading Leopoldís A Sand County Almanac, Bestonís The Outtermost House or in contemplating the thousands of square miles of wilderness that are an important part of our heritage thanks to Muirís unique vision, it is impossible to imagine people with lives more in tune with the natural world.

Anyone recently involved in fisheries issues canít help knowing that the torch they lit has supposedly been passed down to modern self-described "conservationists" who only a few years ago were just people whose hobby was catching fish or whose businesses involved catering to those hobbyists. Today these people, who weíll call New Conservationists, band together in "conservation" organizations and actively - and sometimes successfully - pursue political agendas ostensibly based on the proud legacy of those men who created the conservation movement. But letís take a look at how in tune these New Conservationists might be with the conservation ethic that Muir and Beston and Leopold so successfully established.

Link to Rocky's letterFor a fictional journey into the psyche of a mythical New Conservationist, we refer you to Rocky Saxatalis' letter on striped bass. Rocky's attitude, which we have unfortunately found isn't all that fictional, provides the basis for a coming FishNet that will explore New Economics, a discipline that appears to have arrived concurrently with New Conservation.
A note for the sensitive: Several people - we would assume New Conservationists - who stumbled upon this letter took such offense at it that they directed the attention of various elected officials and fisheries managers to it to share their outrage. Needless to say, for anyone so inclined we encourage such referrals. Probably as needlessly, if any of those who were referred to the letter shared any outrage, as yet we haven't heard about it.

One of the easiest ways to recognize a New Conservationist is to identify the vehicle he or she is driving. The sport utility vehicle is the New Conservationistís hands down favorite. The four wheel drive pickup truck is a close second. Whichever the choice, it will probably be festooned with racks to proudly display fishing poles and ice chests. If a vehicle weighs several thousands of pounds more than it has to, if it gets less than half the gas mileage that it could, if it has four wheel drive, big knobby tires with raised lettering, and a trailer hitch on the back, thereís a good chance thereís someone driving who thinks of himself as a conservationist. If the truck or SUV is parked in a garage, driveway or parking lot located on what used to be a salt marsh or other coastal wetland, the chances are even greater.

Where this sport utility vehicle or other vehicular behemoth is being driven is another indication of whether a New Conservationist is the owner. If itís up and down the beach - something that would undoubtedly make Henry Beston throw up his hands in bewilderment but seems to be the primary activity of many of the New Conservationists - or to the closest marina or boat launching ramp, you can be almost totally assured that the driver and passengers are basking in the glow of the conservationistís torch. And basking in multi-speakered stereo, air conditioned comfort at ten or fifteen miles per gallon.

Barnegat Light marina
A line of SUVs and pick up trucks at a launching ramp in Barnegat Light, NJ
Fiberglass powerboats at a marina
in Barnegat Light, NJ

When reaching the marina or launching ramp, what is our boat-based New Conservationist most likely to do? Probably climb into a fiberglass craft that might well last until the next ice age, crank up the one or two - or more, if we can actually believe what we see in boating magazines - 100+ horsepower outboard motors, and go roaring off at 40 mph in pursuit of the "fish of the day," leaving behind a remembrance of his passing in the form of a petrochemical slick on the water and a cloud of haze in the air [Link to OBM impacts articlefor a discussion of possible impacts of recreational boating]. Meanwhile, back on the beach his land-based compatriot is cruising up and down the strand in his quest for fish, turning areas that were once the exclusive domain of sand pipers, piping plovers, frisbee tossers, sun bathers and nesting turtles into a slower-speed version of the freeways back home.

Up until now it might be somewhat difficult to understand how these supposed disciples of Muir, Beston and Leopold think they are carrying on the conservationist tradition. But, on the fishing grounds once theyíve caught and killed all the fish they want to take home to either eat or hang on the wall as "trophies," they stop throwing their catch into their buckets or coolers and begin practicing whatís known as "catch and release." Catch and release is a process involving hooking a fish, allowing it to struggle at the end of the line until exhausted enough to be reeled in, taking it off the hook and putting it back in the water, supposedly to live to "fight another day." This is done until theyíve fully satisfied their urge to fish or the fish stop cooperating and is the primary way the New Conservationists think they conserve. (We must note here that catching and releasing isnít inflicted only on the fish the anglers donít want to eat or to hang on their walls. Fish are also caught and released because they are too large, too small, out of season or of the wrong species to be legally kept.)


"Over 75 per cent of small snapper caught during NSW Fisheries 'angling trials' survived in the long term. (Fishing for the Future - Catch and Release Fishing Fishnote DF/27, W. Talbot, Technical Officer  S. Battaglene, Biologist, Brackish Water Fish Culture Research Station, Port Stephens) Link to New South Wales fisheries page

"Bait caught fish typically suffer a much higher hooking mortality than fish caught on flies and lures. At least 1 out of 3 fish caught with bait will die after release. Over 60% of deep hooked fish dieÖ.When fishing deep water (deeper than 30 feet) most fish caught cannot be released with any assurance that they will surviveÖ.Fish that are already stressed by warm water temperatures or low dissolved oxygen conditions cannot handle the added stress of being caught and most likely will not survive after being released." (Utah Division of Wildlife Resources - Catch & release fishing information and techniques) Link to State of Utah Catch and Release page

"Catch-and-release ideologies aside, one camp maintains that the well-intended effort may serve scant purpose. The large specks (speckled sea trout) more than 25 or 26 inches long cannot handle the stress created by catch-and-release. Most die within days, even hours, of being turned free. Or, so the detractors claimÖ.We've consistently had survival rates of 90 percent on 'school trout' caught on rod and reel and maintained for research purposesÖ.The survival rate following catch-and-release of "trophy class" trout remains unconfirmed; however, the biologists do have opinions based on their work with coastal finfish. They conclude that, under proper circumstances, big trout have at least a 50 or 60 percent chance of survival." (Joe Doggett - Saltwater Action column - Texas Fish and Game magazine) Link to Texas Fishing page

"PHYSIOLOGICALLY SPEAKING - According to Dr. Bob Reinert of the University of Georgia, the stress that fish exhibit after being caught is caused when hormones, known as catecholamines and corticosteroids, are generated in the fish's body. They dramatically increase blood flow in the gills and muscles, imbalancing the fish's blood electrolytes and building up lactic acid in the blood. If the blood becomes too acidic, osmotic shock can set in, rapidly killing the fish. Even if osmotic shock doesn't kill the fish, its immune system can shut down from the stress, resulting in the fish's death from disease days later." (Bill Byrd - Catch and release that works - Fly Fish America) Link to Fly Fish America Catch and Release page

"BUT, IS CATCH AND RELEASE THE ONLY ANSWER? What about angling ethics? Is it ethical for a skilled angler to catch and release thirty, forty, fifty fish or more in a single day? I've done that myself and I'm not proud of it. Today, I know that delayed mortality probably resulted in the death of many of those fish. A dead fish is a wasted resource and perhaps the fish and we would be better off if we caught a limit of eaters and went home." (Tony Dean - South Dakota Outdoors- Is It Time To Take Stock?) Link to South Dakota Walleye fishing page

Unfortunately, many of the fish caught and released by New Conservationists - or by anyone else, for that matter - donít live long enough to fight on that other day. Research indicates that a significant percentage of released fish donít survive this kind of conservation, in short order becoming crab, shark or seagull food. While the New Conservationists consider any fish not remaining belly-up at release a healthy and happy survivor, this isnít necessarily so. Delayed catch and release mortality, which can reach 20 or 25 percent, has real conservationists rightfully concerned.

Catching and releasing is one of two activities that distinquishes New Conservationists. The other, of course, is condemning commercial fishermen at every opportunity for catching and keeping - and providing to consumers - those same fish the New Conservationists want for themselves. Try as they might to cloak it in self-righteous rhetoric, the New Conservationistís brand of "blame someone else, Iím not the problem" conservation is nothing like the real thing. But theyíve found that itís too hard to look in the mirror - those big SUVs and fancy boats must be tremenduously appealing to them - and easy to point a finger at the other guy. The first "other guy" is a commercial fisherman but behind him are millions of seafood consumers.

CONSERVATION QUESTION: Is it better to catch and keep two or three fish for personal consumption then go home and wax the SUV, or to catch and release twenty or more, knowing that a significant proportion arenít going to "live to fight" another day? 

Please Note: We know some recreational anglers who are as concerned with the "footprints" they themselves leave in the natural world as those that are left by others. True conservationists, they are environmentally aware and responsible and their lives reflect it. These comments arenít directed at them. Their houses are in order and they arenít built of glass.


The tragic loss of ten crew members of four ocean clamming vessels that sank in a two week period has riveted attention on the issue of safety in the commercial fishing fleet. Both the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating these losses, the first in the clamming fleet since 1992. (Note: While results wonít be available until the Coast Guard investigation is much further along - hearings are still being conducted - Master Chief Dave English is available to discuss fishing vessel safety. He can be reached at the Coast Guardís Philadelphia office at 215 271-4869.)

Without question, commercial fishing is a dangerous profession. The ocean can be a sometimes inhospitable and occasionally dangerous workplace and the periods of inhospitality or danger arenít always predictable. Stringent federal safety requirements recognize and all the people who work on commercial fishing boats realize this. (the Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Act of 1988 - 46CFR28 - that established industry safety standards is described in the box below.

Link to Vessel Safety regulationswill take you to a page on this site with the "Reguirements For All Vessels" section..
Code of Federal Regulations searchwill take you to the Code of Federal Regulations search page (enter "46CFR28" and the subject area you are interested in).

As they do in every workplace, accidents happen on commercial fishing boats. When these accidents happen at sea, and  when the forces of nature are stacked against the vessel, the results can be tragic.


"According to the National Research Council, the fishing industry is the most hazardous in the United States. Fatality rates for commercial fishers are significantly higher than any other industry. The commercial fishing industry comprises about 50 percent of the employment in the entire maritime industry. Of the 140,000 commercial vessels regulated by the Coast Guard, more than 80 percent are fishing vessels. 

To address and correct the unacceptable safety record of the commercial fishing industry, Congress passed the Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act of 1988. In response, the Coast Guard developed regulations which took effect in 1991. The regulations require vessels to carry safety equipment, including lifesaving equipment, survival craft, communications equipment, distress signals, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons, fire extinguishers, emergency alarms and bilge pumps. The new regu-lations also developed guidelines for watertight integrity and stability. 

The act established a Commercial Fishing Industry Ves-sel Advisory Committee made up of fishers, marine-safety and insurance representatives and safety equipment vendors. The committee meets annually and provides the Coast Guard with recommendations on safety and equipment items. The committee plays a part in the development of realistic regulations. This has fostered greater industry acceptance of the requirements. The core program is a no-cost, no-fault, voluntary dockside safety examination program. Fishers can request a Coast Guard vessel examination to ensure they have the proper types and quantities of safety gear. This is non-adversarial, and the examinations are used as an educational tool, as well as a means to encourage future compliance. 

The voluntary exams are complemented by the Coast Guardís at-sea law enforcement program. Critical safety items are checked at sea during fisheries law enforcement boardings. Citations are issued for safety deficiencies, and, in more serious cases, vessels may be ordered back to port. The Coast Guardís success has been measured by the steady reduction of commercial fishing deaths since 1992. The combination of regulations, industry awareness and participation is helping make a dangerous occupation safer." 

(from "Protecting Americaís Fisheries" by LT John Garofalo in the May, 1998 issue of Coast Guard)

- The Oil Slick -
HALIFAX (Canadian Press) -- Oil executives and biologists are having a tough time arguing their cases on the future of one of Canada's most unique marine ecosystems....The two sides appear to be coming up against the same challenge: a lack of information on how oil and gas exploration would affect Georges Bank, an area off Nova Scotia rich with marine life (Alison Auld 1/26/99) 
Link to a related articlefor the full article 
Link to a related articlefor another article on exploratory drilling on Georges


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