A new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service “study” that’s now under way in Massachusetts has generated a lot of comment from anglers across the nation.
In this study, NOAA researchers aren’t counting the number of sport and commercial catches in different harbors, and they’re not estimating how many juvenile fish will appear off the coast next season. Instead, they’re researching what would happen if they offered 500 current saltwater sportfishing license holders different amounts of money to give up their fishing privileges.
It’s somewhat reminiscent of the plot of the film “Indecent Proposal,” in which a wealthy older man wanted to see if a struggling young couple would put their own feelings aside and accept an offer of $1 million cash for … well, something other than sportfishing privileges. Given the current weak national economy, anglers might similarly find themselves doing a lot of soul searching if someone waved $500 cash under their nose.
In the NOAA study, researchers will be asking, would Joe Smith agree to accept a $500 cash payment in exchange for his saltwater sportfishing permit? He would? Then, what would John Jones do if NOAA offered him $250?
Each one of these randomly selected anglers is getting a questionnaire about their fishing habits, and each one will also receive a different cash offer to give up their sportfishing permit, ranging from $15 to $500. When the results are in, NOAA says its researchers will have a better idea of the actual cash value that anglers place on “the pleasure and satisfaction derived from recreational fishing,” according to NOAA economist Scott Steinback.
Steinback says NOAA has no plans to call for higher fishing permit fees based on this study’s findings, and its goal in doing this research is not to restrict sportfishing activities. Anglers are understandably skeptical about both of those claims.
If NOAA finds that a large percentage of anglers will, in fact, accept a cash offer to waive their sportfishing privileges, it could open the door to an entirely new method of limiting the number of anglers fishing in specific regions.
Will this become an offer that some anglers decide they can’t refuse — and, at the same time, a rationale for agencies to increase fishing license fees to 10 times their current price?
In this case, all eyes — anglers’ and regulators’ alike — will be on Massachusetts, to see what happens.