Editor’s note

In a lot of ways, we consider anything Charles Witek has to say on fisheries management and conservation a “must read”. Charlie has recently started a blog at

I hope many of you check it out and subscribe to be notified when Charlie posts his thoughts on this very difficult and often confusing subject. But in case you are too lazy to click it we will repost his blog right here. But I do urge you to subscribe to his feed on his blog



In this final essay in the One Angler’s Vision series, I will suggest that there are far better models for salt water fisheries management than that put forward in the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s report “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries” (  And that’s important.  Because in the last five essays, I explained what I thought was wrong with TRCP’s “Vision” report.  But you can’t just be against something, and it’s not enough to just criticize someone else’s effort.
If you’re going to criticize something, you’d better have a better idea to put in its place.
Fortunately, there are a lot of good ideas out there.
We should probably start with a comment made by Aldo Leopold, a pioneer of American wildlife management, who noted that
“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
Leopold’s comment is as appropriate to managing living marine resources as it is to managing ducks, upland birds and deer.  And by that standard, the TRCP “Vision”, which emphasizes economic returns rather than restored fish stocks and healthy marine ecosystems, is miserably wrong.
But, as I said, there are plenty of better ideas out there.
Let’s start with Rip Cunningham’s recent blog on managing New England groundfish (  Cunningham, who served a long tenure as editor at Salt Water Sportsman and, until recently, was the Chairman of the New England Fishery Management Council, noted that anglers require
“essentially three things to be successful: fish, fish and fish! Recreational users have the least efficient gear and therefore need to have population levels as high as possible”
Not coincidentally, Cunningham was also a member of the commission that assembled the TRCP “Vision” report.  I don’t think that I’m going out on a very long limb when I say that he probably supported the report’s conclusion that recreational fish species should be managed for abundance, and for a reasonable number of large fish, and not for maximum sustainable yield.
The TRCP’s “Vision” also concluded that conservation was important to anglers and that the nation needed a recreational fishing policy.  I believe that both those things are true; as I said in the first essay of this series, the “Vision” report got a lot of things right.  It only went astray when it made recommendations that would support neither the effective conservation measures nor the abundant fish stocks that it recognized as anglers’ key needs.
Thus, we must envision a national recreational fishing policy that embraces those needs and makes them reality.
The good news is that folks already know how to make that happen.  We need to recognize that salt water fish are just another form of wildlife, and that they need to be managed in the same way that biologists already manage wild brook trout, ruffed grouse, mallards and whitetail deer.
You don’t see those species, or any important species of game, upland birds, waterfowl or freshwater fish managed primarily for “extensive economic benefits,” as the “Vision” report would manage salt water fish.  Such living natural resources are managed with an eye toward healthy populations, abundance and the integrity of the ecosystems in which they live.  They are also (with a few exceptions, such as the landowner and outfitter hunting permits issued in a few western states) managed in a way that gives private citizens—and not the folks who make money from their demise—the broadest possible access to such resources that is consistent with sound conservation practices.
The key to such a management approach is something called the “North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.”  It’s unique in the world, and exists, to my knowledge, only in the United States and in Canada.  It is based on the premise that natural resources are held in trust by the state or nation on behalf of all of its citizens.
More information on the North American Model can be found at (  However, it is founded on seven basic principles, which can be summarized as
1.       Wildlife is a public resource, held in trust by the government on behalf of all citizens;
2.       Wildlife should not be harvested for market;
3.       Wildlife should be allocated among harvesters by law;
4.       Wildlife should only be killed for a legitimate purpose;
5.       Wildlife is an international resource;
6.       Wildlife management decisions should be based strictly on science; and
7.       Wildlife should be accessible to the general public.
Using those basic principles, American wildlife managers have restored and conserved a wide range of mammals, birds and fresh water fish.
If we could start with a blank slate, it would be difficult to come up with a better set of principles for managing salt water fish as well.
As the TRCP report suggests, recreational fishermen need an abundance of fish in order to have a satisfying angling experience.  “Flexibility” doesn’t get you there. So:
·         Stock rebuilding should not be delayed.  The current 10-year rebuilding deadline of the Magnuson Act does not fit every species perfectly, but it provides a good proxy for managers to use unless and until the best available science indicates that some other rebuilding period—which may be longer or shorter than 10 years—is more appropriate.  The decision as to the appropriate rebuilding period should be based solely upon the biology of the stock and the impact on and of the ecosystem that supports it, and not on economic considerations.
·         All decisions that are based on the biology of the fish, including but not limited to annual harvest levels, must be set solely by fisheries scientists.  Anglers, commercial fishermen and representatives of the fishing industry may only make decisions between alternatives (e.g., combinations of size, bag and season) provided by such scientists, or with respect to non-biological issues, such as allocation.  Groups such as ASMFC must be required to adhere to conservation standards at least as restrictive as those mandated by federal law.
·         All overfished and/or recovering fisheries must be governed by hard caps on harvest; fully-rebuilt fisheries might be governed by alternate means such as fishing mortality rates, provided that there is a trigger in place to adjust such rates promptly if overfishing occurs.
·         Allocation of fish must first consider the personal-use needs of the private individual; if those needs are satisfied and additional fish may be harvested without harming the ecosystem, they may be allocated to the commercial sector.
·         In all decisions, the health of the resource must be given priority over economic concerns or the desires of any particular user group, or of all user groups in the aggregate.  In the long term, a healthy, fully-restored fishery is in everyone’s best interests.
I write the above knowing that it’s something that I’ll probably never see in my lifetime.  We’ve been inching closer to it over the years, but now some folks want to take us backward, to that place where the fish and the individual angler are subordinated to economic concerns.  We’ve been there before, and neither the fish nor the anglers came out of it too well.  We shouldn’t go there again.
I know that a lot of people read this blog; I can look up how many “hits” I get daily.  And I suspect that most of those readers—most of you—are anglers.
So now it’s time to figure out what your “vision” might be.
It might look like mine.  It might look like the TRCP’s “Vision” report.  It might be something else entirely.
But unless you move quickly to share it, it’s possible that no one will care.
Sometime this month, maybe sometime very soon, Senator Mark Begich of Alaska will unveil the United StatesSenate’s Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard’s initial draft of a Magnuson reauthorization bill.  Senator Begich has a record of supporting conservation efforts that he believes in—in the middle of a very tough reelection fight, he had the character to come out against the infamous Pebble Mine, even though his stance might cost him needed votes—so we can be pretty sure that any Senate bill will be far better than Rep. Hastings “Empty Oceans” approach.
Still, the “contributors” to the TRCP “Vision” report have been lobbying Senator Begich incessantly, and believe that he is sympathetic to their cause (  The fact that the news appears in a publication called “Trade Only Today” probably suggests that their cause isn’t necessarily yours.
And on March 26, the TRCP report will be presented to the National Press Club in an event that is apparently being coordinated by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (
Once the momentum gets going, it’s going to be pretty hard to stop.  And your voice will be lost in the process.
So if science-driven management, ending overfishing, rebuilding overfished stocks and preventing ASMFC and similar state-based groups from mismanaging fisheries is important to you, you ought to let folks know.
One of those folks is Senator Begich
111 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
 The other is your local congressman and your two U. S. senators, although they probably won’t be paying much attention until after the November elections.
Be polite, be concise, but tell them about your concerns.
Do it quickly.
Because it’s pretty clear that no one else is going to speak for you.  They’re all too worried about themselves


  1. karl

    Good advice and suggestions I will reach out to government members you rec’d
    thank you for your vision

  2. andy_k

    I really wish that someone with Charles Witek’s knowledge, experience and priorities were on this side of the Atlantic and helping to advise the EU and UK governments on fisheries policies, I truly do!
    It seems that over here, it is more important to lay the blame for a massively declined entire fish stock(s) at some one or some other country’s feet than it is to face the facts about what is needed to be done to even begin to rebuild it.
    With all of our major fish species (commercially and recreationally speaking) in seriously dangerous decline, no one is will to face up to the one simple fact that commercially fishing for them has to stop. But in the same breath, anglers have to stop catching and killing them too and as such, they must face up to the fact that if that means no more catching, or fishing in a manner that is likely to catch certain species of fish if it is likely to end up in the death of that fish – dragging cod and pollack up from vast depths and have them basically die of the bends for instance – then that style of fishing has to stop too. Not permanently, but certainly enough to ensure that there is enough stock there to be properly managed for the future enjoyment of everyone around and interested in them.
    The recreational anglers complain it is the fault of the commercial fishermen and demand a fair share of what meagre resources are left in the seas, yet unlike the commercial operator who has to pay for licenses etc, the UK sea angler doesn’t even have to pay for ANY kind of recreational fishing license. As such, the politicians don’t really give a toss about anglers because there is no revenue at stake to them.

    I truly hope that all you guys get on and chase your politicians, as well as supporting Charles Witek in his approach to looking after YOUR resources!


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