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The Great Divide                                    By: Captain Joe Cacaro

I am quite certain that a great many of you have been following the strident efforts being made to save and conserve our marine resources.  While strenuous attempts have been made in an effort to preserve these resources, few have been successful.  One of the most challenging stumbling blocks in the conservation effort is the division between recreational anglers and commercial fisherman.  The problem, as many believe, does not lie with one group or the other - - both groups are at fault.

Most commercial fishermen abide by the rules, as do most recreational anglers; however, both groups have offenders among their ranks.  It is simply that when a commercial fisherman exploits a resource, it has a vastly greater effect than when a recreational angler does so.

What amazes me most about the "Great Divide" between the two groups is that they are all part of the same group - - - fishermen.  We all love to fish.  We all love the sights, sounds and yes, even the smells of fishing.  None of us set out to make millions by fishing.  We began fishing because we loved to fish.  If fishermen, commercial and recreational alike would simply take the time to rediscover the how's and why's of their fishing roots, I am certain they would realize it had very little to do with money or a desire to abuse our marine resources.  Maybe it was a fishing trip with a family member, a friend, or even a solo endeavor, but whatever the case may be, we developed a passion for all the things that make fishing what it is to us.  Maybe you began to love the feel of your line coming tight and setting the hook.  Maybe it was the sensation caused by that first reel-burning run or head-shaking jump.  Or maybe it was just the strategy involved in trying to outwit your quarry.  More than likely it was a combination of the many different sensations and feelings awakened by that proverbial "first fish" that ignited and fueled this passion.  I know this because I have witnessed it first hand.

Through being a recreational angler, a mate and now a captain, I have experienced the joy of helping people from all walks of life catch their first fish.  For me, it is a feeling second to none in the angling world.  When an angler fights and lands his first "nice" fish, he is ecstatic as well as overwhelmed.  At this point, congratulations take place and many anglers desire to take their fish back to the dock, but with the heightened awareness of the threat to our marine resources, many choose not to kill the fish, opting for a photograph instead.  As for those anglers who aren't sure whether or not to keep their catch, a quick explanation of the state of our marine resources usually convinces them to only keep what they will eat.

For some of us however, this passion becomes tainted by greed of one form or another and we begin to abuse what we once held tremendous respect for.  I can tell you first hand that is an easy trap to fall into.  I began to keep all the fish I caught, not because I needed them to eat, but because I wanted to impress fellow fishermen back at the dock.  At one time, this excessiveness was not only accepted, it was applauded.  Now, only after years of exhaustive educational efforts by various groups (conservation organizations, fishing clubs etc...) and outdoor magazines, has this trend begun to change.  Actions that once elicited stares of envy now receive scornful glares.

Hopefully, the strides we have made as writers, captains, mates and recreational anglers to conserve and educate others about conservation will continue.  At this point I would like to say that I have nothing against keeping fish.  I only suggest that you give sincere thought as to how many fish you need to take and what it means to the overall resource.

Bear in mind that, although you may only go fishing once a month, "filling your cooler" can only have a detrimental impact on the environment.  The recreational angler who is a casual observer of the commercial vs. recreational issue may be under the impression that all commercial fishermen are gluttonous and wasteful, taking whatever they can get paid for.  In some cases this is true.  I have personally witnessed mullet netters in the Ten Thousand Island area killing Snook, Sea Trout, Redfish and various other species.  We must realize, however that they trying to make a living and most know the resources must be given a chance to replenish themselves if they are to continue to make their livelihood in this manner.  This is a key point.

If we can remember the love and respect we had for that "first fish", we can try to treat all our marine resources in the same manner.  It is also my contention that many recreational anglers believe that if the commercial fishermen take too many fish, they can too.  It just can't work that way.  Recreational anglers simply don't need that many fish.  Just take what you are certain you will eat.  DO not keep fish with the rationale that they will be killed by commercial fishermen anyway.

This presents us with one of the new challenges the recreational angler should take head on and embrace. Simply put, practice catch and release as much as possible.  Don't keep short fish and encourage your friends to do likewise.  As our angling careers progress, we must realize that these new challenges exist.  You don't need a full cooler to impress your friends.  Bring a camera.  If we can all make a few small concessions in the name of conservation and sportsmanship, we will be doing our part to save our sea life.  This, combined with immediate and proper legislation, will ensure our marine resources a chance for survival.  Just as every recreational angler must do his/her part to conserve, so must the commercial fishermen and we need the legislation to ensure this.  As fishermen, both commercial and recreational, we must reach back to our past and try to recapture those memories of that "first fish" in an effort to close the gap between us.  With this in mind, we can work together towards a solution to the exploitation of our oceans' resources.



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