Is there any common ground between marine ENGOs and recreational fishermen on the difficult subject of no fishing zones (or marine reserves, or no take MPAs)? The answer is yes, after some interesting time spent in Florida considering exactly that question.
I was invited by Mike Nussman, president of the American Sportfishing Association to represent “MPA proponents” on a panel with fisheries scientist Ray Hilborn and NOAA’s Donald Kennedy. In the panel presentations, discussion, and side conversations there were many areas of agreement.
Many noted that fisherman have been some of the world’s best conservationists in the past, and I agree with that because I've seen it. Then, of course, there's the obvious shared interest in conserving fish.
On the hard stuff, we talked about what should be the basis for MPAs. Most seemed to agree that MPAs should be designed to achieve clear objectives and that fishing restrictions in MPAs should be focused on achieving the objectives. Some felt that recreational fishing was not the problem, and that restrictions should focus on commercial fishing. I noted that impacts don't fall neatly along sector lines, rec fishing can be harmful and sometimes commercial fishing uses hook and line gear similar to rec fishing (it's not all bottom trawling or gillnets. So OK, we had some disagreement on fishing impacts.
Now I’m flying back from Florida, after a paltry 22 hours on the ground. Not my favorite kind of travel, but the meeting seemed worthwhile. I hope we can take this common ground and go further with it. Am I alone in that hope?
Of course, there is other common ground on the easier subjects of ending pollution, protecting habitat, etc. This was a meeting designed to talk about the hard stuff, the issues where we’ve been fighting for the last few years. Even on the tough subjects like MPAs, I’m optimistic.