Commercial and recreational fishermen make common cause in Florida
By Hoyt Childers
Boat owner Jack Golden stood dockside in early afternoon at Madeira Beach (Fla.) Seafood and watched the crew unloading his longline vessel, Blackjack I. Skipper Herman Ellis had docked Blackjack I about noon with a hold full of red grouper and gag.
Two things were prominent in Golden's thoughts as he watched. The first was the pending approval of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council's reef fish amendment 30B, comprising strict quotas for gag that could pretty much wipe out what's left of the gulf grouper fishery.
"If they pass that 45 percent reduction, we're done," Golden said. "The fish houses can't survive."
But the other, a seminal meeting of commercial, charter and recreational fishing leaders at a local restaurant later the same day, could change everything, he said.
"I think it's the best thing that ever happened," he said. "This could be a big thing. It's the only way we are going to survive."
That evening, May 29, Dennis O'Hern, executive director of the Fishing Rights Alliance, a St. Petersburg, Fla.-based recreational fishing advocacy organization that little more than a year before had been at war with the longline fleet, looked out over the crowd of about 75 leaders and opinion makers from the commercial and recreational fishing communities and said virtually the same thing.
"This gives me hope."
The occasion that brought together this surprising group of former adversaries was the official launch of the Gulf Partnership for Marine Fisheries, an alliance formed — as described in the group's introductory brochure — "to support the recreational and commercial fishing community and fishery dependent businesses."
Fishermen in attendance were enthusiastic and eager to talk.
Golden, who had by now arrived to lend his support, repeated what he'd said on the dock earlier in the day.
"I think this is the best thing we've ever seen," he said.
Martin Fisher, owner of Rising Sun Fisheries in Madeira Beach, saw in the alliance the possibility of a brighter future.
"I've never seen anything like this," he said. "I'm for us being able to fish 10 years from now; that's what I'm about."
Walter Keithly, a researcher at Louisiana State University who has agreed to help advise the group, said the gathering was unique in his experience.
"It's a first," he said. "It's nice to see common cause, coming together to generate data for the science process. I would do anything I can to help out with the process."
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