Dave, you're preaching to the choir. Time for role-playing. You're an
aquarist and I'm an Arizona fisheries manager who just worked a 60 hour week
full of recovery plans and data analysis and conversations and meetings with
ranchers and land developers and city officials and biologists and
newspapers and politicians and even Mike Wallace. All this over a rare fish
species in a single spring in the Arizona desert. Everyone wants some sort
of consideration in the final decision. Then a letter comes across my desk
from you requesting my permission to take some fish from that spring for
your aquarium. I'm reaching for my rubber stamp that says DENIED. Geez,
the last thing I need is to deal with some guy who wants some of these fish
to sell. Yeah, you say you want to study and breed them. Sure... Besides,
how am I going to explain this if I approve it? I'm about to end farming
and development in the area to protect habitat and conserve fish, and I'm
supposed to defend letting someone just take some of those fish that other
people are losing jobs over to conserve? I don't need that headache.
Or maybe you're a naturalist who loves observing fish in their native
habitat. I'm still going to deny your request. What are you going to do to
educate me? That's EXACTLY what happened to me. I spoke to the person at
WDFW who handles permits. I had first asked for a permit to collect fish in
a large area of western WA, and it was denied because it was too large in
scope and not specific enough on the details. So I changed my approach and
told him I was interested in a permit just to observe the fish, not keep
them. I compared what I wanted to do to what a bird watcher enjoys doing.
He told me that the difference was that fish watching requires disturbing
and removing the fish from the water, and is prohibited. I wasn't even
asking about rare fish. He was completely black-and-white about it. It's
all about stinking salmonids and not disturbing-- or catching maybe, hmmm--
them in their streams. Maybe there was some distrust of my intentions.
Maybe the idea was just too different to consider. Meanwhile a new shopping
mall and soccer field or housing project go up in a salmon stream watershed
in Seatle or Tacoma. He wasn't even a biologist. In Washington the
fisheries enforcement office processes such requests. There are only 2
non-game fish biologists here and they are not involved in the permitting
process. This is all very frustrating to ethical collectors.
Something very interesting happened at the NANFA convention. A guy from the
Illinois Dept of Natural Resources was there. He summarized collecting
Illinois regulations and found they were very confusing and sometimes just
stupid. He asked all of us how we thought they could be revised and what
other states had regulations he could review to rewrite theirs. He never
would have done that if one of us had called him or wrote a letter. He did
this because he was impressed with the NANFA group in Champaign. You lucky
members in Illinois are going to benefit, but I'm sitting here in Washington
knowing that if I want to see fish it has to be illegally or with a detailed
research proposal. How can I take what happened in Illinois and use it here
in my state on the people who write the regulations? I know I'm not going
to gather that Champaign group and bring them here, so I'm depending on
NANFA to help. But there are 500 NANFA members each with their own ideas
and goals, and 50 states each with different laws and fishes and biologists.
How are we going to overcome all these obstacles and repeat the Illinois
experience in my state and others?
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