It might not be fair, but the Maryland Fisheries Service has got to get it absolutely right this time when it offers up its new plan to manage yellow perch.
One hundred percent. No doubt about it. Nailed.
So much is riding on it, beginning with the service's credibility with recreational anglers, who saw their license fees double last year, and state lawmakers, who are watching the process.
At a meeting tomorrow night in Annapolis, officials will ask anglers what they want to see in new regulations. They asked watermen this month in a similar setting.
After reviewing wants and needs against a new assessment of the yellow perch population, fisheries officials will roll out a proposal, probably in September, and schedule public hearings. The goal is to have regulations in place before emergency measures expire after the first of the year.
If anglers aren't happy, you can bet they'll go straight to the General Assembly, which conveniently enough will be in session in January just down the street from tomorrow's meeting.
Intervention by state lawmakers is always a tricky proposition. What one asks for isn't always what one gets.
The sole reason for this regulatory two-step is because the Department of Natural Resources (of which the Fisheries Service is a wholly owned subsidiary) botched its last attempt to enact yellow perch rules that heavily favored the commercial industry and included opening the Nanticoke and Choptank rivers to commercial netters.
Anglers responded by going to the General Assembly, which passed a law requiring DNR to adopt regulations to allow yellow perch to get to their traditional spawning grounds and more equitably distribute the catch between commercial and recreational users.
Coastal Conservation Association Maryland was wise to pick a fight over yellow perch. They are pretty fish, for starters, and their early arrival in Chesapeake Bay tributaries each year marks the beginning of fishing season. They're fun to catch - especially if you're a kid - and good eating.
But lots of things from the "Over" family conspired against the perch, principal among them overfishing and overdevelopment.
Tom O'Connell, the new Fisheries Service director, says he wants to hear from recreational anglers whether they want to catch big fish or a lot of fish.
"If they want a bigger fish, it may be difficult to have both recreational anglers and commercials operating in the same areas," he says. "That could lead to establishing separate areas, where places with good [shore] access are recreational areas and places with difficult access are commercial access."
Robert Glenn of the conservation association warns that any plan must address the major thrust of the state law.
"I don't think it's a matter of getting size or abundance. There's two issues: allocation of existing fish and restoring the fishery," he says. "You can't give what DNR gives the commercials and give us the scraps."
The meeting is at 7 p.m. at DNR headquarters in Annapolis.
Piecing it together
Made of 55 logs and tucked in a hillside along the Appalachian Trail, the three-sided shelter doesn't look like much, but it's a piece of hiking history
It was built about 40 years ago by Earl Shaffer, a York County, Pa., native who, in 1948, became the first person to hike the length of the nation's most famous trail, from Georgia to Maine.
He did it twice more, the last time in 1998, at the age of 79. He died of cancer four years later.
Weather, time and vandals have taken their toll on the hut, the last remaining shelter built by Shaffer. Trail buffs and amateur historians want to save it.
So on Saturday, after a ceremony commemorating Shaffer's first 2,175-mile walk in the woods, hikers will carefully dismantle the structure and carry the pieces 3 miles to Route 225, a bit north of Harrisburg, where it will be trucked to storage.
Someday, it will be reassembled at the Appalachian Trail Museum, the dream of Larry Luxenberg, a 1980 thru-hiker.
Two years ago, Luxenberg began lobbying federal and Pennsylvania officials about the need to save the fragile structure.
"We said we'd provide a good home for it. It was a good match," he said. "We would consider this our most significant museum piece."
When approval came just before July 4, Luxenberg was ready to move. But now he needs a permanent home for his growing collection of hiking artifacts.
The perfect spot is a 150-year-old grist mill at Pine Grove Furnace State Park, an hour's drive north of Baltimore near Gettysburg and close to the midpoint of the Appalachian Trail. The park gets 500,000 visitors annually, and every thru-hiker passes within 20 feet of the mill. The small general store is the scene of an AT rite of passage, the Half-Gallon Club, in which ravenous long-distance hikers try to consume a half-gallon of ice cream in one sitting. (Prize: a small wooden spoon.)
"We've been working with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club to draft a plan for renovating the mill. It's conceivable we could be open next year," Luxenberg says. "The project has gone a lot slower than I'd have liked, but it's moving now. We're getting critical mass."
To help give Shaffer's shelter shelter Saturday, go to www.atmuseum.org and click on "news."