February 6, 2016 Share

Should Some Seasonal Fishing Closures End?

I’m in the throes of a dilemma, which Merriam-Webster defines as “an argument presenting two or more equally conclusive alternatives.”

The question is: could/should SOME seasonal fishing closures be eliminated? I use the word “could” because when it comes to managing our nation’s fisheries I am one who recommends airing on the side of caution. It seems to me that closed seasons make sense to protect spawning fish.

On the other hand, as an angler who lives in a state where fishing (with the exception of panfish and rough fish) is all but shut down from the beginning of March through, in the case of black bass, the end of May, I have to ask if such a long closure makes sense biologically and economically. “Should” these closures be eliminated?

Let’s look at the biological side first.

According to nationally-renowned fisheries expert Dr. Hal Schramm, with few exceptions, there are no biological reasons for fishing closures during the spawn.

“We (fisheries researchers) have no examples of common, prevalent species like black bass where fishing during the spawn has negatively affected recruitment.”

Per Schramm, a lake can only support a finite amount of fish and the typical spawn produces more young fish than necessary maintain fish populations. Given suitable habitat, only a small percentage of the fish population needs to spawn successfully to maintain a quality fishery, meaning seasonal closures may be overkill.

For most anglers, harvesting an egg-laden fish just prior to the spawn just seems wrong. However, if you kill that same fish two months later you are still eliminating its reproduction capabilities from the system.

Socially, there are arguments for seasonal closures and arguments against. Some fishing openers are massive social events that generate millions in revenue and tremendous media coverage, while others have little-to-no social or economic impact, and may in fact actually negatively impact these areas.

For example, I landed my first largemouth this season while fishing crappie with a 1/64-ounce jig. I wasn’t targeting bass, and released the fish immediately, but catching it was fun. Further, I can assure you I would have made several additional trips targeting bass in the weeks that have followed if I was legally able to do so.

Hence my dilemma: if Schramm is correct that keeping bass season closed for months has no positive impact on the health of the fishery, and if keeping the fishery closed is hurting its potential impact on the economic, why keep it closed?

For the record, I am not arguing for the elimination of all fishing seasons. There are cases when closing a fishery, or portions of it, makes sense biologically and/or socially. But the other closures? –Steve