From the Crow's Nest
by Capt. Charlie Phillips
The crow's nest is the highest point on a vessel and used as a lookout point. As the president of Florida Guides Association (FGA) I plan to be on the lookout for hazards as well as opportunities that affect our organization. This column will be used to communicate my observations to you. Please feel free to share our newsletter with any of your friends that may also believe in our mission to protect Florida's fishery resource to the benefit of recreational angling.
Puttin’ Stuff Out Front
A dozen different people have presented a subject to me in the past month. Because of its provocative nature I thought it warranted a spot on in this month’s Crow’s Nest commentary. The purpose of this editorial is to open up topics that are sensitive, or controversial and try to meet them head on versus doing damage control later.
How many of my guide readers have heard someone say, “Well you just want tighter regulations on (insert various fish species here) so that you have more for your customers to catch each day?” How many of my recreational angler readers have said or thought just that comment? Its ok, you’re among friends here, and putting stuff like this right out in the sunshine for all to see and converse about is exactly what this article is written for.
I enjoy having these types of conversations with the people I meet, on the boat, at a show or just when Laura and I are out and about. Fishing and fishing related things are going to be the subject at some point, and I always like to ask how the particular person feels the state of their fishery is currently in and what they may see as the biggest issue that will be faced in the future. The responses are as varied as the winds, and many times can be guessed by knowing what fish the angler targets first and foremost.
The things that an angler who targets primarily Bonefish and Tarpon finds important many times maybe different then someone looking to catch flounder, snapper and grouper. It’s all in perspective, and it’s all very understandable in motive, if we think on it for a minute. But one thing that’s not hard to see is how our recreational partners can easily mistake the intentions of charter boat operators who support increased regulations, as solely for their personal business and in increasing the bottom dollar when we don’t do the other half of that equation and educate, inform and involve them in the process.
As guides, we have the blessing of being on the water much more than the average angler, our office is the most beautiful backdrop Mother Nature can provide. Our desk is the deck of our boats and our tools are the rods and reels we use to connect us to the fish we are targeting with our customers. We are the envy of a great many people. We are living their dream as we run our businesses each day trying to put our clients on the best fishing opportunities our fishery and we can possibly offer.
Our recreational partners are often limited in their ability to get out on the water. Maybe due to work schedules, weather or other factors. For many people 1 or 2 days a week is all they have open and they look to make the most of it when they can. A fact of life for many, is they don’t have the opportunity to be as involved in the decision making processes that affect their fisheries, either in fish regulations, FWC meetings or other events. To take days off multiple times per year during the work week, to attend workshops, meetings and events regarding fisheries regulations is not an option. They also tend to see less of a fishery then a professional guide or captain, meaning they may not be as quick to see a change, or issue that may be obvious to someone on the water 5 or 6 days each week.
A recreational angler who fishes one day per month may have a hard time seeing how a reduction in his redfish limit from 2 to 1 per day is fair, I mean after all, he takes 24 per year at a max and sometimes it’s a hard topic to sell. The fact is that while he may only fish once per month, his retired, non-guide neighbor may fish 5 days per week, taking 10 fish per week and over 500 fish per year and is legal to do so, and his neighbor may do the same, and his the same and his the same. It’s a volume thing, and it’s sometimes hard to see and might not have even been considered.
This is why it’s very important, that we, the professional guides and leaders of our industry, must take the time to talk to, listen to and involve our recreational partners at every chance possible. Even when we may disagree, and sometimes we are going to, we must be good ambassadors of the industry and make attempts to educate, inform and involve when the conversation comes up on the boat, on the dock or off the water about why a change is needed, how it impacts us all and the cost of doing nothing.
It’s a fact, FGA Guides are governed by the same exact rules when we leave the dock each day in state waters as our recreational neighbors and partners. While many charter boat groups and associations are endorsing catch shares and sector separation type programs, the FGA has been very vocal in opposing programs that separate the charter boats from our recreational partners. This will only further the thought that conservation is not the reason behind a group pushing increased regulation. And you know what, for many groups pushing various programs, it’s exactly right.
Right now, there are commercial boats in states along the gulf coast that are taking anglers aboard as crew for a day of snapper fishing and at the end of the day they may buy a portion of the catch from a fish house as an end around game. All the time, you the recreational angler are looking at a 9 day red snapper season. This is wrong, and we at the Florida Guides Association are on your side with this. One set rules for all players is what I personally believe (this is my personal opinion, not the FGAs) and I also believe that I should not be able to harvest a fish for profit that my recreational neighbor can’t take his grandson after during an afternoon trip. (Again my personal opinion) The fish and the resources belong to the people of Florida first and foremost.
We must all be good stewards, and we are all going to have to make concessions as we move into the future. A fact of life for us all is Florida’s population is growing, almost 20 million people in 2014 and more now I’m sure. Over 3 million licensed anglers in a 2013 data share I was able to find online, show that we must have the foresight to think much further down the road then tomorrow or next week. We must consider the impact a year, 5 years and decades from now. We are the variable Mother Nature did not contend for; able to harvest fish at a much greater clip then she can put them back in rotation.
So Florida Guide Association guides, I challenge you to take the time, have the patience to have the hard conversation about why a rule or regulation change may be needed, and to explain to any who will listen as to why it’s important for our fishery now, and for the future.
And recreational partners, I urge you to have an open mind as you listen and talk with our guide members. Remember that the FGA Guide you are speaking with is a true ambassador of the sport we all love and is here and involved as a direct testament to their devotion in ensuring our fisheries remain sustainable for generations to come.
The Florida Guides Association has been the leader of the industry for guides and recreational anglers since 1991 and this is something we will ensure continues long into the future. Rest assured, that as we face the challenges of the future, when the Florida Guides Association considers a statement or position, our guide members, as well as our customers, you the recreational angler and partner, are very much a part of each and all decisions.