Top: Commercial fishing boats. This photo: National Ocean Policy could help protect favorite fishing spots. Photos by John McMurray.

Get Out from Behind Your Computer, and You’ll Find That the Glass Ain’t Half Empty…

Man… I hate social media, and…I love it.

If you are in the charter fishing business, one-hundred-percent, you get what I’m say’n’. Folks see you’re catching fish, they book charters. I mean, the truth is that I built a business, particularly the offshore part of it, on the back of Facebook and Instagram.

But wow…it can be ugly. I’m not referring to the spot-burning/over-crowding part of this…that’s an entirely different piece and, ahem, a really tough one to tackle. My intent here really is to point out that, while sure, it can be a hugely beneficial source of information sharing, overall, social media paints a kind of grim picture of the fishing community.

The truth is that it brings out the worst in a lot of us. The lack of general courtesy and respect for other perspectives online is sometimes frightening. Under no circumstance should this be read as an endorsement of violence, but the great Mike Tyson kinda hit the nail when he said, “Social media made you all way too comfortable with disrespecting people and not getting punched in the face for it.”

I don’t think anyone would describe Tyson as articulate, but man, that sentence is profoundly true (in the figurative sense). Face-to-face conversations are often entirely different than they would be online. The posturing, grandstanding, labeling and the lack of respect in some posts? I don’t think anyone would argue that most exchanges containing differing perspectives online aren’t polarizing and unproductive. The most prolific folks seem entitled to speak in absolutes, there are black-and-white over-simplifications of policy points, and a with-me-or-against-me vibe seems to be the standard.

To be clear, I’m not for a minute saying I’m immune to that kinda stuff. It’s often that I find myself getting pushed away from a reasonable middle and too far to one side of things. And yes, I’ve been known to say stuff I shouldn’t and/or probably wouldn’t if the person I was saying it to was standing across from me. But I’d like to think I’ve grown up enough to NOT do that kinda thing anymore.

If you exist in the fisheries world, the social media stuff and, really, the internet overall, is just darn depressing.

Not just because of the above, but because of all the doom-and-gloom stuff too. I mean, it’s literally everywhere. Information sharing is never a bad thing, but the blogs, the articles, the commentary that often follows. If you’re not out there a lot, you’d think that the fishing is terrible and that fish and marine mammals, and of course fishermen, are all just on a slow and steady, or maybe not-so-steady path to extinction.

My advice? Stop spending so much time behind your computer and go fishing.

Because you’ll find out real quick that the ocean is NOT dead, and nor does it appear to be dying.

I’m just about certain that if you were to go on a charter right now, you’ll find that there’s a LOT of life. The truth is that stripers in my area, as well as others, are super-abundant right now. There are fish on top, under birds, in the flats, and if you drop a live menhaden down? It’ll get eat’n almost right away.

Yeah, that doesn’t fit into the “overfished” narrative, but that doesn’t make it untrue. Sure, there are problems rebuilding the stock to levels we saw in the early 2000s, but in some regions, abundance is at a level of most of us haven’t seen in decades. And as that rebuilding continues, we should see size and numbers continue to increase. So much so that keeping fishing mortality in check and on a path to rebuilding is likely to be problematic. (Note: Yes, recruitment for the last 4 years has been bad, and I’m not for a minute saying we shouldn’t stay on course and continue to rebuild. All I’m just saying is there’s a LOT around right now).

And bluefish? We’ve got ’em tailing in the flats, like all day long. And that is SUPER cool. Get a fly or plug in there and they’ll SMASH it! (Note: bluefish, while still overfished, are also rebuilding).

Weakfish are still badly depleted, but dense bodies of fish are beginning to show up in areas like the Great South Bay and the Peconics, giving many of us hope that they’re coming back.

And offshore? Well, it’s been really good for, I dunno, the last 15 years? The number of yellowfin tuna we encountered last year was absolutely extraordinary. Yeah, it was a bummer folks killed so many (I mean, ya gotta wonder what people did with all that meat) but absolutely, the numbers were insane.

And bluefin? While we didn’t get a great run in the New York Bite (least not compared to prior years), there were certainly a ton of fish up in New England, from Giants to schoolies. You’d have to be living in a cave to not have made note that this fishery is getting better and better as stocks seemingly grow in both size diversity and abundance.

And man, we should talk about menhaden here. There are more of the oily baitfish around than ANYONE can remember! And the whales that have come in to feed on it? Not a quarter-mile from shore you’ll see ’em lunge feed. Travel 20 miles or so offshore and it’s the same thing, except the bait is sandeels instead of menhaden. And instead of stripers and bluefish under them, you’ll find tuna.

My point is this. Get off your arse…step away from your computer…get out from whatever dark, dank room you might be in…and get underway. Or at the very least go to a beach near you. And you might actually understand that the glass is half full.

One hundred percent there are serious problems, and I’m not for a minute arguing that this isn’t the case. And there are always interest groups trying to figure out ways to kill more fish, unsustainably. Plus, I don’t think anyone can deny that with the human population exploding, and limited marine resources, sustainability will remain increasingly challenging. And without a doubt, we’re constantly creating better technology that will allow people to travel farther and find fish easier. Climate change is creating problems that managers continue to struggle with. Of course, there are species that are depleted and don’t seem to be coming back. And there have undoubtedly been huge failures in management.

But the truth is that we have evolved quite a bit. While they may not apply to all fisheries, we have laws that require sustainability! Overfishing HAS to be addressed and stocks that fall under federal management HAVE to be rebuilt. That’s not exactly the case with state-managed stocks, but it should be, and perhaps one day it will be. Arguably science is lacking, because things underwater are even harder to count than how many a growing fishing population removes. But it’s hard to argue that things aren’t better than they were just a couple short decades ago.

Sure you’ll hear from the “in my day” folks, and depending on how far back they go it’s probably true, but it’s hard not to write at least some of that stuff off as “rosy retrospection” cognitive bias.

The truth is some things are WAY better these days. And while, yes, there are setbacks, we are making strides forward. You wouldn’t know that though if you spend most of your time sitting behind a computer all day reading the doom and gloom stuff, and taking part in fruitless social media arguments, but, absolutely, conservation and management, when it’s been affectively applied, is working! All it takes is some on-the-water perspective to see that clearly.

Here’s my advice (again). Living in or frequenting the dark virtual world sucks. Go out, into the real world and embrace it. Because whatever they say on the innerwebs, the ocean is full of life, and it’s extraordinarily beautiful!

And maybe, just maybe…you’ll find out that things aren’t all that bad.

In fact, they’re pretty darn good.

About John McMurray

Capt. John McMurray is a full-time charter boat captain and president of ONE MORE CAST CHARTERS in Oceanside, NY. McMurray spent nine years on the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and six years as a legislative proxy on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, and is a founder and past president of the American Saltwater Guides Association.

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