Parks & Recreation

by Ken Hinman, Wild Oceans President

Cashes Ledge in the Gulf of Maine and canyons and seamounts offshore of New England are being proposed as national monuments, making these unique areas “ecological reserves,” protected from the ocean floor to the surface. Most advocates want all resource uses prohibited, including fishing.

The move to designate marine parks, including candidate areas in Florida’s Biscayne Bay and waters around the Hawaiian Islands, is modeled after our National Park System, which preserves cultural and natural resources of outstanding beauty and ecological value. Noted marine biologist Sylvia Earle, a proponent of monument status, has called Cashes Ledge “the Yellowstone of the North Atlantic.”

But Yellowstone National Park allows fishing. According to the U.S. Park Service, “Fishing has been a major visitor activity for well over a century. Because of this history, fishing continues to be allowed and can complement, and in some cases even enhance, the park’s primary purpose to preserve natural environments and native species.” Rules vary from park to park; commercial fishing is never permitted and some allow no fishing at all.

Wild Oceans believes that marine parks can play an important role in preserving ocean ecosystems for the generations to come, even as we stay mindful of protecting the ability of the fishing public to enjoy the ocean’s wildness. It’s a delicate balance that requires assessing the purpose of each park and its regulations, including whether or not to allow fishing, on a case-by-case basis.

Fishing may be prohibited where it is impossible to sustain, as in the case of a compromised coral reef system. Or for study purposes, where a pristine area is maintained in its natural state, free from any human influence, a place where we can observe what an undisturbed ecosystem looks like and how it functions.

But we must be very careful not to use marine parks as a substitute for sound resource management. We believe that learning to coexist with the sea, by changing the way we fish, by fishing as part of the natural system, is ultimately the best way to protect wild oceans. Our park system on land provides both a model and a warning. We’ve given extraordinary protection to a few prescribed areas while allowing helter-skelter exploitation outside their boundaries, where we live, work and play. In the ocean, that kind of dichotomy can only undermine the future of fishing.

Become a member of Wild Oceans today and support our work to protect our ocean treasures and the future of fishing.

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