Friday, February 24, 2017

Maryland DNR Planning for Rays

Not a Cownose Ray, and not the Chesapeake Bay
DNR developing plan for cownose rays
As you may have read previously in The Capital, the state experienced a $1 billion swing (yes, that's billion with a "b") since last spring. What used to be a $450 million surplus is now roughly a $544 million deficit. So instead of figuring out how to disperse the monies — improve bridges and roads, enhance Chesapeake water quality and habitats, etc. — lawmakers and Gov. Larry Hogan now face the challenge of closing the gap.

If past is prologue then it's not too far afield to wonder if some outdoors programs could potentially face the budgetary knife. It's also worth noting that in Virginia the Saltwater Sport Fishing Tournament was on the budgetary chopping block until sport anglers got fired up enough to galvanize their opposition. They told their state legislators that cutting this extremely popular program, which is funded by their license fees, is simply unacceptable. Fishermen even threatened to buy their angling license from the Potomac River agency since there is reciprocation. At last check amendments to bills working through that legislature would restore the funds, as well as ensure the monies were spent on the specific sport fishing programs as intended.
So, money is tight. Politicians like to spend more than they like to tax, and in Maryland, they like to tax plenty. So what's that got to do with the Cownose Rays?
It's no surprise that legislation resulted from last year's blow-up over bowhunting tournaments for cownose rays. In fact, it's an issue that's been brewing for a few years. Last month the Department of Natural Resources proposed regulations to "prohibit the use of projectile gear (archery equipment, gig, spear and spear gun) for taking cownose rays during the period from July 1 through Dec. 31." That prompted the Maryland Bowhunters Society and the Maryland Hunting Coalition to ask DNR Secretary Mark Belton why the agency is moving forward if they haven't yet adopted a fisheries management plan for these migratory fish. A fair question.
The ban is largely based on "animal rights" concerns generated from bloody pictures from ray bow-fishing tournaments, not a real concern over the population of Cownose Rays, which is quite robust.
Last week, the state Senate unanimously passed a measure that imposes a moratorium on contests that kill cownose rays in Maryland waters while the DNR develops its plan. A House companion bill (HB211) was scheduled for a hearing this past Wednesday but when I looked online I did not see any outcome. Neither bills take a position on bowfishing parties on charter boats, focusing only on tournaments and/or contests. Even though I don't hunt rays, where I come down on the issue is fairly simple: I'd settle for some common sense, perhaps a rare commodity, tailored to the 21st century. Virtually all other sport fish have a set season. For rays I favor one after they spawn — July 15 until Sept. 30 might work — as well as a daily limit; three or four rays per day per angler seems reasonable. Perhaps even limit the number of tournaments, and attach some requirement or strongly encourage for bow anglers to report their catch. The "whack 'em & stack 'em" mentality I've seen dockside is not just unsustainable it seems unnecessarily vulgar.
It strikes me that having DNR spend it's time and money generating a plan for managing a species which is not thought to be in any significant danger, which is not often a species targeted, despite large numbers, based on the uneducated feelings of a few whiny anti-sportsmen is a waste of money, of which DNR is always in need.

The regulations above seem merely designed to forbid ray fishing tournaments; there is no evidence whatsoever that these pose any threat to the Cownose Ray.

I like to catch a ray or two on light tackle each year (they show up at "Location X" sometime in June. It's a little like having a runaway freight train at the other end of the line, a strong steady pull. The challenge is to get your terminal tackle back intact. Sometimes I succeed.

Linked at Pirate's Cove in the weekly "Sorta Blogless Sunday Pinup " and linkfest. Wombat-socho has "Rule 5 Sunday: In Like A Lioness" up and running at The Other McCain.

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