ANNAPOLIS – Two Calvert County legislators said they are seeking to defend an American pastime, introducing legislation to secure Maryland’s 700,000 anglers’ right to fish.
Democratic Sen. Roy Dyson and Delegate George Owings introduced similar bills amending the Maryland Freedom to Fish Act, with an eye to lessening government oversight over fin-fishing.
“There are few things more American than fishing for sport,” Dyson said in a letter to the media. “And yet, there is a movement underway to undermine this very thing.”
Though Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources has not restricted recreational fishing in the state’s waterways, as has happened in other states, Owings said they wanted to be ahead of the game.
“This is getting ahead of the curve before it happens,” he said. “We don’t want the state to arbitrarily close fishing grounds.”
This legislation follows a national trend of “right-to-fish” legislation and was driven by recent closures of waterways to recreational and commercial fishing in California and Hawaii.
It requires DNR to provide scientific reasoning for designating a marine protected area, list protocols for monitoring and evaluating the area’s closure and set a timetable for reopening those waters.
These measures are necessary to protect anglers from the “antis,” said Richard Novotny, executive director of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen’s Association.
“Some of the environmental groups have seen it fit to close waters to recreational fishing,” he said.
It was the conflicting interests of conservationists, sportfishermen and government that caused similar bills to fail last year, according to the Department of Legislative Services.
“We felt the (Senate) bill was poorly written and needed to be precise in terms of defining a (marine protected area) and who it affected,” said Robert Glenn, executive director of the Coastal Conservation Association.
Bill Goldsborough, senior scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said the summer session was a “balancing act” to protect farmers and ensure the DNR could properly guard the state’s waterways.
“You want to protect the interests of fishermen, who want to avoid arbitrary closures of state waters but you also want to be sure not to tie the hands of the resource agency,” he said.
All sides worked with DNR and legislators to smooth the kinks in the bills last summer and according to Goldsborough, “Everybody is good with it now.”
Though Dyson said DNR supports the Senate bill, the agency did not return calls seeking comment.
One of Maryland’s most popular hobbies, recreational fishing supports more than 11,000 jobs in the state and generates more than $1 billion in economic output, according to the bill.
For this and other reasons Dyson said, “I believe this worthwhile piece of legislation has an excellent chance to pass because I can’t think of anyone who would want to deprive our sportfishermen of the right to fish as long as they are following all of the laws governing the sport.”
All I want to do, he said, “is to simply protect a great American tradition.” – 30- CNS-1-22-04