This is a book you should read, even if you don't enjoy it - and you probably won't. Compiled by the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, a nonprofit institution established to continue the work of Sen. John Heinz, it offers a probing look at the tangled mess of modern American fisheries management.
The book, based on interviews with 77 fisheries "stakeholders," including representatives of government, environmental organizations, the fishing industry and academia, concludes that "the status of fishery management is seen by almost all the stakeholders ... as weak." Big surprise.
Those interviewed identified many "chronic" problems, including "difficulties in maintaining fishery productivity, confusion about ownership, complicated decision making, mismatched incentives, incomplete science, and a failure to evaluate management performance." These problems "speak to a lingering need for clarification, integration and resolution," the authors say.
All these issues are spelled out in detail in the book's nine chapters. Unfortunately, recreational fishing is treated almost as an afterthought. Of the 77 people interviewed, only two had anything at all to do with sport fishing - both officers of angling associations - and their voices are virtually drowned out by all the others.
There were no interviews with guides, tackle-shop owners, boat builders, marina owners, motor manufacturers or any of the countless other businesses associated with sport fishing. As a result, the book's lengthy discussion of fishing economics fails to take into account the fact, proven by study after study, that a sport-caught fish has much greater economic value than one harvested commercially. Thus the book's treatment of both the social and economic aspects of fisheries management is incomplete and badly flawed.
Nevertheless, anglers will find the book worthwhile for its remarkably clear explanation of the American fisheries-management bureaucracy and how it works (or doesn't work). The book also demonstrates the fearful complexity of some of these problems, which defy easy or conventional solutions.
So despite its biases and weaknesses, Fishing Grounds still offers many details and insights that will help anglers fight the battles necessary to solve America's fisheries management problems and assure sustainable fisheries in the future. That's why you should read it, even if you don't enjoy it.
- Steve Raymond