From Texas to Maine, every state bordering the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean has a Coastal Conservation Association chapter except for Rhode Island, New Jersey and Delaware.
Rich King, of Lewes, is seeking to change that.
An avid fisherman, who runs the popular Delaware Surf Fishing website, King believes it’s time for the state’s recreational fishermen to have a say in the legislative process that regulates their activities at the state and national level, and he believes starting a chapter is the best approach.
“By having a CCA chapter the anglers in Delaware would have a voice in the fisheries management area. We can raise money to help with reef restoration, keeping an eye on legislation that would harm the environment and thus reduce the fish, crab, and clam populations,” he said. “The Delaware angler does not have a "voice" in legislation. This would create a platform for that voice.”
The association has more than 206 chapters throughout 17 states with a current combined membership of almost 100,000. State and national staff members coordinate more than 400 chapter events and fundraisers each year.
The CCA has more than 80 state and national committees, 150 national board members, more than 900 board members – on local, state and national levels – and tens of thousands of active volunteers.
On Feb. 17, King and 22 other individuals interested in starting a CCA chapter in Delaware listened to a presentation by Tony Friedrich, CCA Maryland executive director, at the Delaware Distilling Company on Route 1 in Rehoboth.
“It was a great turn out and Tony had a lot of interesting things to say about the importance of the CCA and the role it can play within the state,” he said.
Friedrich, a Maryland native who has “traveled this beautiful earth with a rod in his hand”, has been working with the CCA Maryland chapter for nearly two decades – the first 12 as a volunteer and the last six as its executive director.
“We’re the largest group of our kind by a factor of five. We’re a recreational fishing advocacy group who is concerned about fisheries management,” he said. “We approach all issues by putting the resource first. We understand it’s a blood sport, but we promote the best way to manage the resources. If the anglers could have somebody to speak for the fish, we’re that group.”
Friedrich said the association has been involved in every major fisheries battle for more than two decades. He gave an example of legislation currently working its way through Maryland’s General Assembly the association is working on trying to block – House Bill 1155. The bill authorizes the harvest of oysters by dredge in the waters located north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and the Kent Narrows Bridge.
“Power dredging is the most destructive method of harvesting the oysters,” he said. “Just image liquefying the top layer.”
That’s the difference between the people involved with the association and the people involved with the commercial fisheries industry, said Friedrich. He explained the commercial fishing industries use a maximal sustainable yield approach, which means they’re interested in harvesting exactly enough so that there’s enough for the harvest the following year. The association would like to see a more cautious approach, accounting for disease and other unknowns that could occur.
John Clark, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control's administrator of fisheries for the Division of Fish and Wildlife, said how the legislation works and who it affects is a matter of perspective.
The recreational fisherman want the commercial fisherman out of the water and the commercial fisherman say the recreational fisherman catch much more, he said.
Clark used striped bass as an example. The state has 111 licensed gill netters, who catch the majority of the 200,000-pound annual quota for commercial fishermen. That comes out to about 1,700 pounds per fishermen and once they catch that limit, that's it, said Clark.
The amount of striped bass caught by all the recreational fishermen in a given year dwarf that amount. One fisherman might catch five, six or seven throughout the season, and that's not anything to him, but as a total its much more, said Clark.
“It's a matter of perspective,” he said.
Clark said DNREC had no opinion one way or the other on the creation of a CCA chapter in Delaware. Delaware is a member of two national groups – the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Marine Fisheries Council – who work together to create many of the rules and regulations the state has regarding much of its marine fisheries.
“It's important that we work together. The fish don't respect the state borders,” he said laughing. “We are open to everybody's opinion. We try and do the best we can for everyone. It's a balancing act.”
The list of things King would like to see changed regarding the fisheries management in Delaware is long and varied, but when asked what tops the list of concerns, he immediately went to the fining process.
“The fines need to be changed. There are no deterants,” he said. “It’s basically just a slap on the wrist.”
He used the current crabbing regulations as an example. If a person with a recreational crabbing license is caught selling those crabs for money, they get a $25 fine. When court fees are added in the cost rises to $80, but that still isn’t enough.
“When they’re making $1,000 a month, they’re going to keep doing it,” he said. “We need to make the fines high enough that they deter poaching. These fines were made in the 40s and 50s when that amount of money was a lot. These days it’s not.”
Clark agreed the fines aren't as high as they should be and said DNREC is working through the process of making them more stiff.
“We're working on legislation that would pretty much overhaul the fines,” he said. “Right now the fines are so low they don't deter anything.”
For the immediate future, King is still working on getting the CCA up and running, and insists there will be another meeting soon.
“Over a million people come to this state for fishing and if the fishing crashes those people are going to be going somewhere else and then it becomes a socio-economic problem,” he said. “Happy tourists spend money. This is going to happen come hell or highwater.”
For more information on the CCA and on how to help, King can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.