Environmentalists Take Agenda to the High Seas

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Environmentalists Take Agenda to the High Seas
By Michael L. Betsch
CNSNews.com Staff Writer
July 25, 2002

(CNSNews.com) - Green groups have launched a campaign designed to protect the ocean "wilderness" from the harmful activity of recreational fishermen.

But anglers argue that the environmentalists are basing their agenda on flawed scientific studies to turn their traditional fishing spots into protected marine reserves.

According to marine environmentalists at the Ocean Conservancy (OC), Americans don't do enough to protect the 'other' America, which is underwater. As a result, recreational fishermen are contributing to the extinction of the aquatic inhabitants, the green group warns.

Rather than dealing with individual species, OC spokesman Warner Chabot explained that his organization favors a blanket tactic to protect the ocean's creatures from extinction.

"If we're going to restore depleted ocean resources, we should be looking at marine reserves as one of several tools," Chabot said. Marine reserves, he said, allow for "an ocean ecosystem to remain untouched so that you are maintaining the maximum level of biodiversity in the ocean."

To date, the OC has targeted four U.S. sites as ideal marine reserve territories, including Prince William Sound, Alaska; Glacier Bay, Alaska; Channel Islands, Calif.; and Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Hawaii. OC has already been successful in securing the nearly 200 square mile territory of the Dry Tortugas in the Florida Keys as marine reserves.

And Chabot claims that the recreational fishing community is probably the strongest endorser of the "no-take" marine reserves.

"If they didn't think the large fish were going outside of the boundaries of the reserves, why in the hell would they go to the edge of a reserve and fish?" he asked. "They must believe that there are big fish that go outside the reserve."

While OC advocates designating at least five percent of U.S. ocean wilderness as marine reserve territories, American Sportsfishing Association (ASA) spokesman Forbes Darby said he's heard reports of environmental activists demanding that reserve areas include up to 20 percent of America's ocean wilderness.

According to Darby, any plan that includes setting aside 20 percent for marine reserves translates into 85-90 percent of places where fishermen will be prohibited.

Darby noted that recreational fishermen are relatively unfamiliar with the whole concept of marine reserves. He said the anglers assume that the environmentalists will accommodate their activity in a sort of "common sense" manner.

"Then, you look at the devil in the details," Darby said.

The anglers are often shocked when they learn that the environmental activists aren't just targeting the commercial fishermen, Darby said. They're restrictive actions will affect the recreational fishermen as well, he said.

Darby believes environmentalists including OC are purposely plotting the protected marine reserves in high traffic areas that have been attracting anglers for decades. "The areas they leave open are the places where currents are bad and there's no access to the water," he said.

And, there's no guarantee that the fish will even stay within the boundaries of a protected area, Darby said. "It's all theoretical science right now, for the most part."

"If you look at the movement patterns of most of these fish, they move over vast distances," he said. "We don't know enough about the fish and the ecology to establish these areas and say how big these areas should be."

Darby noted that it's the small boat owners that will suffer the most from the restrictive no-fishing zones drawn up by the environmentalists. He explained that the marine reserves can extend up to 20-miles offshore, making it dangerous for the recreational fishermen to travel beyond.

"They can't go anywhere," Darby said. "They'll sell their boat."

But the fishermen are hoping that a bipartisan coalition of congressmen and senators will prevent environmentalists from severely restricting their sport. H.R. 3104 and S. 1314, better known as the 'Freedom to Fish Act' (FFA), has been introduced into both houses of Congress.

The FFA will act to "ensure that all federal regulations promote open access for recreational fishing to the maximum extent possible."

And, the fishermen have a key supporter in Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), his press secretary John Flynn said. The senator is not only an original co-sponsor of the FFA, but he's also a member of the Oceans, Fisheries and Atmosphere subcommittee to which the bill was referred.

But the Ocean Conservancy is not as optimistic as Breaux for the FFA's success. The group warns in its petition letter to congressmen, "This dangerous legislation must not become law."

"The Freedom to Fish Act threatens the ability of government officials to protect marine ecosystem and ocean life by blocking the establishment of fully protected marine reserves in U.S. waters," the petition states. "I support recreational fishing, but not at the cost of ocean conservation, as this bill will do."
 

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