Who’s actually catching the most fish?

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Recreational tops commercial fishing across nine species

By Easton Edwards

If you attend any fisheries meeting you will sit and listen to individuals complain that they “never catch any fish,” “they don’t catch the fish they used to,” or “the commercial fishing guys catch everything and I never catch anything.”

I have sat through numerous meetings and I hear this rhetoric from basically the same people, every time, at every fisheries meeting. You would think that there are NO fish and these recreational anglers go out and return with empty coolers every time. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The truth is that recreational anglers not only catch their share of the fish in North Carolina — they by far dominate the catch on most species.


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Out of the 35 species listed on recreational capture in the 2018 Annual Fisheries Bulletin published by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, 21 species are dominated by Recreational Anglers. Nine out of the top ten species listed (by poundage caught), averaged an absolutely astonishing 821% total capture greater than commercial fishing on average across these species in 2018.

This should seem shocking as you never hear these numbers! We have been led to believe that commercial fishermen catch more fish than recreational anglers ever do. Would it shock you to know that in 2017 these same nine species were caught at a 783 percent greater pace by recreational anglers, and that in 2016 that they were caught at a 583 percent greater pace by recreational anglers over commercial fishermen?

It is absolutely staggering the amount of fish caught by anglers where there are not supposedly “any fish to be caught.” What is also worth noting is that this percentage appears to be growing as illustrated by the last three years’ numbers.

Now they will surely say that these facts are on species that commercial fishermen never target! BAAA…wrong! No points in Jeopardy for that remark.

Three of these top nine species are their “poster children” to shut down commercial fishing: SPECKLED TROUT, RED DRUM, AND SPOTS.

Look at the accompanying chart and it will clearly illustrate how the recreational anglers completely dominate these species capture. Dominate it to the point where one has to wonder why they are not seeing increased limitations on bag limits or smaller seasonal limits.

When you look at these figures, it is almost impossible to sit and listen to anyone with a complaint on the amount of fish there is in the ecosystem, or listen to anyone complain about what they are catching. If anyone believes they are going to catch fish EVERYTIME they go, THEY HAVE BUMPED THEIR HEAD! I fish recreationally all the time and for most of these species. I can tell you I have great days and days that are just plain bad but I sit and realize that is fishing and fish move because they have tails. They migrate accordingly to tides, moon phases, food availability, and a number of reasons but THEY MOVE.

I have seen the best Speckled Trout fishing this spring and summer I have ever seen through this time period. The fish are here, some small, some large, but they are here in numbers that haven’t been seen in a long time. There are also good numbers showing on flounder, but that’s another story.

You will also hear other arguments on catch rates being up or down. Changing climate temperatures have altered almost all migratory habits of all the species we now see in our waters. Croakers are as far north as New York. Spots are being seen in inland waters in New Jersey. There have been Snook caught inside the inland waters of Pamlico Sound…Snook! The point is that catch rates will vary up and down with the availability of the species and many of the species we have seen throughout our lifetimes are moving farther and farther north with the water temperatures that best suits their survival. Once again, they’re fish, they have tails and swim.

Another of their favorite arguments will ultimately turn to by-catch in trawls. In any fishery there is by-catch. The Division of Marine Fisheries mandated that there had to be at least a 40 percent reduction in by-catch achieved through the use of by-catch reduction devices placed in all trawl nets. The special interest groups railed and cheered as they never believed this would be achieved. Not only has it been achieved but actually surpassed in joint trials with fishermen and the Division.   The continued reduction of by-catch should and will always remain a priority of any commercial fisherman. They, of all user groups, have the responsibility to ensure stock levels that can always support a fishery. The additional fact that only roughly 15-20 percent of Inland waters are ever trawled to begin with keeps overall fish stocks healthy and by-catch to a minimum.

 

The undeniable facts and truth when it comes to fishing are that on any given year, recreational anglers catch overwhelming numbers of fish. They typically catch MORE poundage on many of the shared species that both recreational and commercial fishermen target. No one complains about this typically from the commercial side because they believe they have their right to fish. This, however, is not the case you typically – or ever – hear from the recreational fishermen and their special interest groups – the CCA and NC Wildlife Federation.

 

These groups have one agenda and one agenda only. To lobby your legislators and preach that commercial interests cause ALL damage to any fish stock. How aggravating it must be to most legislators to hear the same story over and over again, and see these druids preach their bile when anyone with any aptitude can look at numbers such as these presented in the chart and know they are spouting falsehoods.

I reference it in this biblical way because I believe that the legislators who drink in this poison and continuously attempt to introduce bills against commercial fishermen are akin to Jim Jones and his cult following. They are indeed directed, and I’m sure if probed deep enough, well-funded by special interest groups including the aforementioned. Extremely fluent and wealthy in backing by small conclaves of radicals that absolutely hate anything to do with commercial fishing but are well funded enough to keep pushing their agendas forward.

I will tell the average citizen, consumer, and your legislative elected officials that represent you: DON’T DRINK THE KOOL-AID!

Learn the facts, know your constituents, and get to know the people that bring you Quality North Carolina seafood. Only through interaction with all of these hard working people will you ever come to understand that everyone has a right to fish either for recreation, or to provide for their families.