The loss of recreational fishing opportunities due to COVID was particularly evident for those who fish charter and head boats during the April blackfish season that wasn’t. For-hire fishing in New Jersey was forbidden until May 17, and even then a 10-person passenger limit was in place until Memorial Day weekend when the governor acquiesced to allow head boats to sail with up to 25 people.
So you can imagine my confusion when reading an interview in an online publication called Flylords where the vice president of a non-profit called the American Saltwater Guides Association (ASGA) was asked how COVID was affecting fisheries management; he responded by saying his organization was fighting efforts to allow fishermen to make up for lost days.
“Our number one fear is that there will be an outcry to roll back marine fisheries regulations to compensate for the recent economic losses. We are working at the highest levels of government to stop that effort,” said ASGA’s Tony Friedrich.
You’d think a non-profit claiming to represent for-hire business would be working at the “highest levels of the government” to help licensed captains recoup lost opportunities, not stifle them out of fear! Considering New Jersey’s lost month of tautog and limited access to black sea bass in May, I believe there’s a sensible argument to be made for closing some of that bottomfish gap between the September 19 fluke closure and reopening of sea bass on October 8. Apparently, arguing for a few additional fishing days will keep me off the ASGA Christmas card list!
Mr. Friedrich and his organizational funders/cofounders have already targeted The Fisherman for attack, describing me in particular as “willing to sell their editorial souls for advertising dollars, convey a widespread disdain for conservation to their readers.” You know what they say about opinions, so allow me to share mine – the world of fisheries management is flush with angry ideologues and castaways, exiled from one non-profit organization to another, forever grinding axes in bitter retribution against imaginary beasts who they blame for their own maladies and misfortunes.
Strangely, those railing against New Jersey’s for-hire fleet while admittedly working to stymie any regulatory relief have been silent in New England where the rollback of regulations has been most widespread. Massachusetts, for example, extended the for-hire season on black sea bass “to offset the delayed season start required of for-hire fishing businesses this spring due to COVID19 safety measures,” while extending cod fishing “to allow the for-hire fleet to use the fall season to make up for the loss of access to the fishery in the spring.”
I reached out ASGA’s New Jersey chair Capt. Gene Quigley about the group’s lobbying efforts and why New Jersey seems to be in their political crosshairs, but have yet to receive a response to phone call or private message. Some of the only correspondence I’ve had with ASGA was a forwarded email exchange with a coworker in which Mr. Friedrich pledged a “special kind of hell” for writers like me, complaining of “lost sponsorships, jobs, and contracts” because, as he put it, “we fought against Yamaha and Shimano sponsored legislation” called the Modern Fish Act. Or, as Mr. Friedrich proudly boasted to Flylords about the Modern Fish Act, “By the time we were done fighting against it, we helped strip it down to a few studies.”
As for my editorial soul, I prefer to let my conscience be my guide. Those preaching from the church of conservational spite and hypocrisy seem to be doing so from a highly recognizable Pew; and that my friends, is a telling example of who actually sold out whom.
“The thing is – fear can’t hurt you any more than a dream.”
– William Golding (Lord of the Flies)