No offense to the membership of the Maryland Saltwater Sportsfishermen's Association, but your leaders have all the grace and dignity of 14-year-old boys at an all-you-can eat pizza buffet.
There are ways to accomplish your goals. A sterling model would be the Task Force on Fisheries Management, which got everyone in the fishing community--recreational anglers, charter boat captains, guides, tackle shops owners, watermen and regulators--to work out a blueprint for the future.
It was agonizing work. Slow going. But it was transparent, inclusive and effective.
Enter MSSA and its showboating membership update last night that ranks as perhaps the most childish bit of chest-thumping since Tarzan met Jane.
The group's leadership wants to change the way striped bass are allocated between the recreational anglers and the watermen. The short version is, they want more, they want to take fish from the watermen and they want to wrap themselves in a holier-than-thou flag of conservation.
They didn't talk to the other fishing groups before making their demand and threatening to go to the General Assembly if Department of Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin didn't give them what they wanted.
They paid for a "white paper," cut and pasted from existing documents by lobbyist Bill Miles. It contained nothing new about the status of striped bass. (Hey guys, if you paid more than $80 for that long-winded term paper you paid too much.)
In a cover letter to the MSSA board dated Nov. 16, executive director Dave Smith wrote that the goal was to reduce the watermen's take of Chesapeake Bay striped bass from 42.5 percent to 10 percent. He later revised and extended his remarks to remove the 10 percent.
Griffin, in his response to the legislative threat, wrote: "The conservation and allocation of striped bass are distinctly separate management issues. Conservation does not require allocation and, more importantly, allocation does not ensure conservation...Allocation issues rely heavily, and appropriately, on stakeholder values and input."
It should be noted that MSSA did not approach either the Sport Fisheries Advisory Commission or the Tidal Fish Advisory Commission before it decided to begin its blackmail attempt. (I'm surprised the "white paper" wasn't constructed of letters cut out of a newspaper.)
MSSA says it has 7,000 members. Maryland has 19 times that many saltwater anglers--and that doesn't count charter boat customers. So where does it get off jumping to the head of the line?
Griffin's letter, dated Feb. 2, said he would make an allocation review a priority and include ALL interested parties. A review could be completed by Nov. 15 and a policy decision could be reached by May 15, 2012, one year ahead of schedule.
Sounds like a grown-up, reasonable approach.
Then, Monday night, MSSA slobbered all over itself with a smug update to its membership that took credit for everything short of the creation of really soft toilet paper and announced that Smith had been named a member of the Sport Fish Advisory Commission--THE VERY GROUP MSSA CIRCUMVENTED.
Here's a truly laughable line: "Maryland's commercial fishing industry harvests more striped bass than any other East Coast state and they do so within their principal spawning grounds, the Chesapeake Bay."
But wait, watermen have less than half of the bay allocation. Who catches 57.5 percent of the allocation from those same spawning grounds? Oh, we don't talk about that in polite company. We'll conserve from the watermen's cut.
There's a way to do things, to build a coalition. And there's a way to belittle folks and suck the air out of the room.
If MSSA want to be a big player, it has to stop acting like a little snot.