As we’ve stated time and again, FishTalk’s overarching goal is to help you catch more, bigger fish, particularly by feeding a steady diet of how-to fishing and where to fishing articles on top of timely fishing reports. But no matter how good a fisherman or woman you might be, there’s one thing outside of your control which will dictate how successful you are: how many fish are out there, and how big they happen to be. Yet we anglers still seem to have a problem agreeing with each other and coming together as a fishing community on some very important management issues. Issues which determine just how many fish are out there, and just how big they happen to be. I’m not immersed in fisheries management and all the politics that go along with it, but I know a guy who is: David Sikorski, Executive Director of the Coastal Conservation Association on Maryland (CCA-MD). And a conversation with him on this topic proves enlightening.

tagged striped bass
The striped bass tagging program is one of the ways the CCA of MD has been trying to keep anglers engaged and active in fisheries issues.

“We need more optimism,” Sikorski says, “and I want to remain optimistic. We have all these controversies – you see it all over FaceBook – but why? We’re all on the same team, so why can’t we take the big picture approach, and get our community united? We are the ones who need to take action. Sportsmen have always been the strongest voice in conservation, and we all need to walk the walk and make good decisions on a personal level. Sometimes people look to the government agencies to get things done. Maybe someone shows up to a meeting or two, gets angry, and leaves. But we’re asking the wrong people to take action. It should be us.”

There’s no denying Sikorski’s point; in the grand scheme of things, it’s the fishing community that not only accepts but also supports fisheries regulation. And although it’s easy to dwell on the failures, when you look at the big picture, fisheries regulation in North America is actually one of the greatest success stories in the world. We humans probably have the tech and the tools to harvest virtually every living finfish in the Chesapeake Bay in a matter of months – much less devastate the much-argued-over striper population. Just imagine what our lakes, bays, and ocean would be like if everyone with a rod and reel still fished with no regulations and the fill-a-barrel mentality of our ancestors. Yet infighting continues to divide us, limiting our collective ability to impact the resources in positive ways.

“A little respect and understanding would go a long way,” Sikorski notes. “Nothing and no one will ever be perfect. Just think of all the things you’ve learned along the way and how much you’ve changed in your own attitude.”

He also points out a few things we can all do which will not only help the fishing community as a whole, but in the long run are self-serving – because they’ll help you (and me!) catch more, bigger fish.

  • Take some personal responsibility. One example: join the CCA’s tagging efforts and catch logging programs, to help perform citizen science (go to CCA-MD to learn how; both MD and VA members can participate).
  • Get involved in the environmental issues affecting our waterways. Participate in a trash clean-up, or let your legislators know how you feel about problems like sewerage overflows.
  • Stop beating up each other, especially on social media, just because people feel a little bit differently about things. Why does one person care how another likes to catch fish? What makes someone think their way is “better?” As long as an angler is abiding by the law and doing what they enjoy, attacking them for it is not going to help us become a cohesive force to improve the resource – it will only serve to divide and weaken our voice.

For my part, all I can add is that the vitriolic Facebook bashing between local anglers is something we should all work to eliminate. I recognize that this phenomenon seems more like a reflection of devolving cultural standards than a problem limited to the fishing community. Still, it’s difficult to present a untied front when everyone’s sniping at each other. And like David, I remain optimistic. As he likes to say, we’re in a marathon, not a sprint – and history proves that we anglers can have a positive, lasting effect on our resources.