Fishing is our privilege, don’t be the reason why it gets taken away.
Unprecedented; that’s the word we keep hearing to describe the experience of living through the coronavirus pandemic. The word I keep using is ‘weird’. It’s not the best word to describe it, but it—very accurately—describes my daily feelings about it. Nothing is normal. I can’t shake anyone’s hand; I’m wearing a mask at the grocery store; we had a FaceTime Easter; half the country is out of work and yet, the highways are almost empty. I’m sorry, but it’s weird. And please don’t misunderstand me; I fully support all of this, I believe that these measures will save lives, maybe even the lives of people I love, or that you love. I know that COVID-19 is no joke and should have been taken a lot more seriously from the outset. I’m all in and not making light of the situation, at all.
Something that is troubling me as person who uses the outdoors—fishing in particular—as a way to keep a fingernail’s grasp on my own sanity is the growing number of beaches and boat ramps and fishing spots that have been closed as a result of overcrowding or the belief that social distancing will not be observed by people utilizing these areas. If you’re a Canal guy, for instance, brace yourself. If they don’t preemptively shut it down, you can bet that the Army Corps will rope it off as soon as the crowds make it impossible for people to maintain a safe distance. I’d say this is all but guaranteed to happen.
We can use the Canal is a mini model to make a larger point. Fishing is not an inalienable right. Fishing is a privilege. And, even though we may consider it an essential activity for the sake of our own sanity, and it may seem like the ultimate example of social distancing, the bureaucrats that make the decisions about what’s safe and what’s not will not see it in the same untouchable light. Crowds have never been a bigger problem than over the past 10 years or so. Social media has melded fishing with flash-mobbing; for the sake of all of us, please stop live-streaming big bites. We have seen Rhode Island close the beaches because people were blatantly ignoring social distancing laws there, boat ramps in New York, Connecticut and Rhody have been shut down too in many places because of the perceived impossibility of taking a boat out and still practicing social distancing.
We are just a few bad moves away from seeing fishing temporarily outlawed, and if you don’t think they’ll do it, consider the fact that Washington State has already banned fishing for the foreseeable future and Massachusetts has banned golfing. Again the stuffed shirts who make the banning decisions are not going to make allowances for different types of fishing that should be safer like kayak fishing or surfcasting; to them a picture of a lineup at the Canal and a picture of a crowd at the local trout pond are the same—to them, fishing is fishing. So we ALL need to be smarter than they are about this.
We need to realize that missing out on a blitz or saying no to the third guy on the boat is not going to be as painful as losing fishing for most of a season. If we are repeatedly observed—fishermen as a whole—ignoring social distancing mandates, whether it’s the Farmington River, a bunker blitz in Asbury Park, the Herring Run at the Canal, schoolie blitzes at Montauk or albie bonanzas at the West Wall… anyone who participates in ignoring the rules in favor of catching a fish, or even just swapping lies in the lot, is putting everyone’s enjoyment of this great sport in serious jeopardy. I’m telling you, warning you, that they will jump at the chance to shut fishing down if we don’t follow the rules.
And with good reason. We are not just making these social sacrifices for our own safety, we are trying to protect those of us who are most at risk. Anyone over 60, anyone that smokes, anyone that has a compromised immune system or has any kind of respiratory condition. Their lives and the ability of our healthcare system to treat them is a million times more important than keeping the fishing season open through the pandemic. It’s our privilege to lose, so please—I’m begging you—don’t screw it up.