One of the more enjoyable aspects of show season is getting to converse with Fisherman readers and fishermen in general. But one conversation I had with a gentleman at the recent Long Island Fly Fishing Expo struck a nerve. He told me he was considering not renewing his subscription because we ran some “dead fish” photos last season, and one in particular – a large surf caught striper. I had responded to the internet craziness that was directed at the angler in an Editor’s Log at the time, which somehow the guy said he missed (It did run in conjunction with another topic.). I reminded him of just some of the issues we have been on the forefront of to maintain and improve the health of our marine resources. Among them the pollution of our bays and Sound, trying to close the loophole in the haul seine fishery that saw many thousands of pounds of stripers dragged up on the beach last fall, support for the passage of the bunker seine bill, trying to stop the proliferation of a mostly unregulated gill net fishery along South Fork beaches, pushing for the use of circle hooks and fighting to improve and expand fishing access to name a few. Anyway, he wound up renewing his subscription and acknowledging that we do a lot for the resource.
Over the course of a season, I do hear from several readers who feel we are being hypocritical when it comes to publishing articles preaching fish conservation and then running dead fish photos in the magazine. Striped bass and sharks are almost always the species referred to in phone conversations and emails. There seems to be a growing divide among the ranks of recreational anglers, with one segment so extreme that they consider the killing of any fish, particularly striped bass, a mortal sin. They will go so far as to taunt neighboring anglers who do take a fish. Sorry, folks but we are far from that group, some who border on being potential PITA candidates. There is nothing wrong with keeping a fish for the table, as long as it is within legal limits and the fish is being put to good use. We do preach catch and release, especially with stripers, sharks, and other species with generous bag limits that do not necessarily have to be filled. After all, who needs a limit of 10 big bluefish? And we do applaud the angler who releases a big blackfish, fluke, shark or striper, whatever the reasoning behind it. We encourage catch and release photos, but would always like to see more of them. Yet we realize too that the temptation to keep the biggest striper someone has ever caught is strong, and that it may be the only bass that the individual has killed, or caught for that matter, all season. So who are we to pass judgement on why and when someone can keep a fish? And, we do not tell people they shouldn’t keep a fish when the situation warrants.
We do avoid running photos of individuals holding or posing with more than one striper, and shark photos most often require some justification – a tournament winning fish or a mako that is destined to feed an entire crew and their family. We cringe at the sight of a big female thresher, ripe with pups, being hoisted up on a scale. We would love to see a catch and release format for shark tournaments but realize that it is impractical for most of those in our area, given the number of boats that would require spotters and the amount of prize money involved. We burn with anger over those who return a big bass dead so that they can keep an even bigger fish to feed their ego back at the dock and we’re disgusted when we hear from marina owners who tell of guys coming back to the dock with big bass and then go looking for someone to take it from them. And we question those lucky enough to fish several days a week who feel the need to kill their limit of bass every time out. What could they possibly be doing with all of that meat? But don’t expect us to not print any dead fish photos. We can’t possibly know the story behind each and every photo, and as noted earlier, we refuse to be judge and jury over one’s decision to keep or release a fish. We can only encourage, we can educate, and hopefully our readers pick up on the philosophy that our fisheries are far too valuable to waste. Some will discover that it is more of a thrill to release a 40-pound striper and watch her swim away with a powerful stroke of her broom-like tail, than there is showing her off back at the dock. But, we won’t condemn those who choose to keep a fish.