Last week a friend from out of town told me about how excited he was about the upcoming Ocean City fishing season.
He jabbered on about doing some early flounder fishing, rockfish and sheepshead at the Inlet, and fishing every tournament his work schedule will allow — the guy really loves to fish.
But when he turned the conversation to the new minimum size limit on mako sharks his cheerful attitude vanished like a school of mullet with a pack of bluefish on their tails!
Anglers are painfully aware that changes in fishery regulations rarely make it any easier on them to do what they want to do. Smaller creel limits, shorter seasons, tighter gear restrictions, or, as in this case of shortfin makos — a much larger minimum size limit that rocketed from 54 to 83 inches.
That’s going push a legal size mako from 65-70 pounds up to about 230 pounds, and I don’t recall a minimum size for any fish increasing so dramatically from one season to the next.
While I’ve yet to hear any fisherman applaud the new minimum size limit, I have heard from plenty of unhappy anglers and my friend from last week was one of them.
Claiming that in all his years of shark fishing he has never caught a mako 83 inches or larger, he suggested that he probably wouldn’t go sharking at all this season. Which prompted me to ask him if he liked shark fishing,
“Oh yeah,” he said. “I love it. It’s just that the new regulation will make it so tough to get a keeper that I don’t want to waste any of my fishing days trying.”
I really didn’t want to get into a debate with my friend but, unknowingly, he just had just hit a nerve with me that always gets a reaction.
I started by asking him about how many times he goes shark fishing each year. To which he replied, “Three or four.” I then asked if he always brought a mako back on those trips. “No,” he said, “We’re lucky if we get one a season. But even when we don’t get a mako we always have fun doing the catch-and-releasing thing with other types of sharks.”
He had taken my bait and now it was time for me to set the hook. I said to him, “So you’re saying that you enjoy the fishing, even on the days that you don’t bring anything back, but now that it’s more difficult to catch something that you can bring back — you won’t enjoy the fishing. Is that right?”
When he agreed I was quick to remind him that his logic simply didn’t add up.
My buddy’s reaction to the tighter regulations and the contradictions of his statements was nothing I haven’t heard from other fishermen, and it’s certainly not limited to mako sharks.
You can bet that any time new regulations make it more difficult to bring home any kind of fish, there is going a certain level of backlash from anglers who claim that their fishing experience is being ruined.
There’s nothing wrong with being disappointed with, or even trying to fight, regulations that prevent anglers from bringing home a bunch of good meals from their day of fishing. But to suggest that fishing is not enjoyable if we cannot keep our catch goes against everything “recreational” fishing is all about.
Fishing is “fun” — period. Maybe anglers who contend that their day is not fun if they cannot bring home fish should spend their gas, bait and ice money at the fish market. That way they can guarantee their day will end with a whole lot of “fun” in the cooler without going through the (apparent) aggravation of fishing.
Every year, thousands of anglers have an absolute ball catching and releasing undersized rockfish in our coastal bays just as offshore anglers make huge efforts and spend thousands of dollars for the honor of releasing a marlin off our coast. Two examples of local fisheries that thrive despite being mostly all catch-and-release.
Letting go of the worry of filling a cooler with fish frees anglers from the headaches and concerns of regulations, and allows them get out on the water, fish, and have fun