WASHINGTON — The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation brought its message of ocean conservation balanced with enjoyment of water resources to Washington last week during the American Boating Congress.
That message comes down to data and education.
“There are some environmental groups who object to any fishing and hunting,” foundation president Steve Stock told Trade Only Today. “We try to send the message that as long as we do it responsibly and sustainably,” it should be there to enjoy.
It usually comes down to science, said Tony Fins, executive director of the organization. “Once you say, ‘Here’s the data,’ I think most people form enough of a consensus that there is agreement. And that does promote responsible and sustainable fisheries.”
The group’s mission is to educate on both sides of the issue — conservationists and fishing enthusiasts. That means emphasizing catch-and-release programs and the use of circle hooks.
“The commercial fishing bycatch, that’s really wreaking havoc on turtles and dolphins,” Stock said. “Tuna fishermen don’t care about snapper or grouper, so we do all we can legislatively and with the commercial industry to reduce the amount of bycatch.”
The group has done a lot of work with shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico, for example, to help reduce bycatch there.
The foundation also keeps a sustainable seafood guide up to date, which is often an issue with guides found online because the stocks and supplies so quickly fluctuate.
“We shouldn’t limit this responsibility to those catching the fish,” Stock said. “Some of the responsibility should rest on the consumer — simply knowing what to eat and where it’s from — so we’re not just educating fishermen and legislators, but also consumers.”
The group is involved in getting recreational saltwater fishing addressed within the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization.
It is also getting its feet wet in issues more obscurely related to the overall health of ocean species— and thus, the recreational fishing industry — with efforts such as Rigs to Reefs.
When oil rigs are deemed unproductive after decades of pumping oil from the Gulf, oil companies are required to remove the rigs. But what has formed along the rigs is what scientists call an artificial reef, Stock said.
“It’s like destroying a whole community of wildlife,” he said. “The same government that restricts recreational red snapper fishing to a week hires a company to dynamite the rig, killing thousands and thousands of red snapper. The oil companies are required to remove the rig and they get pressure from the environmentalists.”
The foundation is trying to work with both groups to get the companies to cut the rigs down, dropping the structure so it’s not a hazard for ships and boats, but also leaving the “tremendous artificial reef” intact.
The group puts brings kids out on the water to participate in fishing, hoping that will spark their interest in ocean preservation through the coming generations, Stock said. The group has worked with others to fund programs such as “Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs” to give lower-income students a chance to experience opportunities on the water.
“It is giving kids access to the water and letting them know there are opportunities here,” Fins said.
The group works with fishing tournaments focused on sharks and urges them to participate in catch-and-release instead of kill tournaments because sharks are not only vital to tourism dollars, but also to research and the ecosystem.
“By and large, we support legislation turning kill tournaments into catch-and-release tournaments,” Stock said. Harvey says kill tournaments support the antiquated concept that the only good shark is a dead shark.
Aside from legislation, the group is very active in its outreach to marinas, asking to turn tournaments into catch-and-release competitions. Kill tournaments are prevalent, particularly in the Northeast, Stock said.
Raising awareness about a Monster Shark Tournament, a decades-old kill tournament in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., where the movie “Jaws” was filmed, was a huge step for the group. The foundation got a lot of attention last year when it implemented a catch-and-tag shark-fishing tournament in Montauk, N.Y., called Shark’s Eye.
That, and other Guy Harvey tournaments, feature satellite tagging for research purposes, the mandatory use of circle hooks and live streaming from boats to shore.
“It’s really exciting when you’re there and you tag that shark with that satellite transmitter, and a couple days later you start getting the data and see where that shark is going,” Fins said. “It’s a really cool experience.”
The data also give detailed information to fishery managers, instead of guesses.
Expect changes in the Discovery Channel’s continued coverage during Shark Week.