Sustainability: what’s in a word? We hear in the news sustainable economy. We hear conservationist and environmental NGOs (eNGOs) asking if wildlife and flora can sustain current human impact. And the one we all hear and choose to fear or embrace-depending on our conservation ethic-is if fishing populations are sustainable at the current take by commercial and recreational fishermen.
sus• tain• able; Pronunciation: sə-ˈstā-nə-bəl; Function: adjective
1 : capable of being sustained
2 a : of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged b : of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods
Pretty cut and dry to me, but also very hard for some to grasp. Let’s not get into the minutiae of federal fisheries management. The first scream by most-because that’s what they’ve been sold by a few not-so-well intentioned recreational groups-is, “The data, the data: it’s flawed.” Then when asked to explain how the data is sequestered and disseminated they step back and hem and haw with the particulars and ultimately exhibit their ignorance on how the process is actually gained. More often times than not they don’t have constructive suggestions to better the data collection. This is what I’d called a non-sustainable argument. If you’re going to whine about it, offer some solutions rather than only detractions.
So I offer this example of sustainability. When I first began to research global warming back in 1988, I was a child of the acid rain and Montreal Treaty, I read one of the first books which mentioned global warming. The author, the name escapes me, described global warming with a poignant example. Picture the Astrodome. We put 100 smokers in the ‘dome and not much happens. Each week we add 100 more. For those of us old enough to remember the Astrodome before smoking bans, think of the thick blue smoke that descended ever more chokingly from the ceiling as a game or car stunt show progressed. The Astrodome, a metaphor for our atmosphere, cannot sustain too much without drastic changes. The only way to alleviate the smoke was to get rid of some of the smokers or make them stop smoking.
I’m going to offer the same elementary argument concerning our oceans, but I’m going to take it another direction. Most of us grew up fishing stock tanks for black bass and catfish. Let’s take a completely healthy stock tank with a vibrant and fecund spawning population. Your best friend and you start fishing it. Y’all each invite an additional friend. That friend invited another friend and so on. Eventually to dip a hook you have to elbow and shoulder your way into the fray. Now it takes an hour to catch two or three fish and two to catch a keeper This, to me at least, is commonsensical. It’s our oceans in a microcosm. But for some reason, we have individuals and groups in the fishing population that cannot grasp that the ocean’s resources are finite. They fight any regulation, but at what cost?
The oceans, like our bank account, have a limited viable life span. And I don’t want to make this analogy to the younger worker who still has an income, because I think our oceans are past the point we can still put additional resources into her to save the health of her waters. I think we’ve already pushed our oceans into retirement, and we are on a limited income. If we keep spending, eventually we go broke. And unless you want to go on the public dole, we have to start living off our kids. Do you want to cash-strap your kids? I hope the answer is no. But how is the current status of fisheries management and attitudes not taking away from our limited funds and kids futures? At the rate we are taking fish and new anglers are coming into the sport (2000 Saltwater tags at TPWD a month), are we sustainable? Can we continue to take and take?
Some will point out,”but Texas has the best restocking program in the US.” And I will agree and I applaud Dr. Vega and the TPWD Coastal Fisheries Enhancement Division. But we have to look at the success results of stocking with not a wary eye, but an educated eye. As the success of hatchery raised redfish landings rise, I think the latest report was 9%, we have to wonder if this speaks to the incredible efforts of TPWD Coastal Fisheries or are there fewer wild fish to take. The Catch Per Unit Effort is staying stagnant or even slightly declining in some bay systems.
All of these situations point to a systemic problem with the fishing community and the reluctance for us to embrace ways to mitigate the pressure forced on our fishing populations. The pressure is unsustainable. At some point the ocean is going to backlash on us. She will stop giving up her goods, because they simply won’t be there. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Even if you detest the National Marine Fisheries Service and believe the government is in bed with a cabal of eNGOs and folks hell-bent on taking all fishing rights away from us, you’re wrong. They’re just more organized and get out and ask for their part of the pie. But where they are beating the recreational sector is they are organized and offering their solutions. We aren’t. Simply put, the recreational fishing sector’s apathy and finger pointing is unsustainable. If we continue acting like petulant children without offering solutions and getting involved at the NMFS management council level, we’re doomed. And that is the ultimate definition of unsustainability.