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   WETLAND RIDERS


Author Robert Fritchey
Author Robert Fritchey

  
    NEW MOON PRESS - Wetland Riders - PREFACE / INTRO and PART I

WETLAND RIDERS

Preface, pp. xi to xv. Author Robert Fritchey describes how he came to write WETLAND RIDERS, and introduces the reader to the issue of “sport versus commercial,” “fun versus food.”

     In 1980, at age 30, I fell in with the fishermen. After completing my formal education, I had imposed some rigorous parameters on my life: “I’ll earn my livelihood only from renewable resources, and I’ll never work for another man.”
Shortly thereafter, I found myself in a tent on the South Louisiana marshes. Though a lifelong sport fisherman, as a matter of survival, I learned to work with that prebiblical tool, the net.
     By trial and error and by forging partnerships with other fishermen, I learned to fish in the style of a Cajun trammel netter. Each fisherman has his own specialty, be it trout or pompano, redfish or mullet. Because redfish is the staple of the Cajun tramailleurs, I worked that marshland species.

Introduction, pp. 1-5. The concept of "gamefish" is described, where sport fishermen legislatively gain exclusive access to a particular species of fish, thereby denying it to commercial fishermen and consumers.

     Recreational industry members desperately seek to win gamefish status for redfish and trout. Since these fish are the property of everyone in the state, taking them from the public-at-large must be accomplished within the Legislature, and with the approval of the governor. The recreational industry’s aggressive attempts to sequester these two valued species for its own use, and the commercial industry’s efforts to thwart these attempts, have led to some of the most bitterly fought political battles in the legislative histories of Gulf Coast states. The first such fight took place in Texas.



PART I

Texas Gamefish Fight, pp. 9-53. Describes the late-1970s origin of the Gulf Coast Conservation Association (GCCA), the Houston, Texas-based sportfishing group that would evolve into the national-level Coastal Conservation Association (CCA).
    GCCA fans the emotions of recreational fishermen who obediently pressure Texan legislators to give them all of the redfish and spotted seatrout. The game plan that GCCA develops during Texas fights would be followed later, in Louisiana and other coastal states.

     By early 1981, GCCA boasted 7,000 dues-paying members and 30,000 affiliate members in other sportsmen’s groups. Six satellite chapters, each with its own fund-raising dinners, helped fill the organization’s coffers.
  

FISH PROPAGANDA
   Fired up to an almost religious zeal, members signed new members and raised more money. All along the coast, bright red T-shirts, caps and windbreakers bearing the inscription, “Save the Redfish,” were in evidence. Telegrams and letters with the same message poured into the offices of legislators.
     Newspaper ads, some of which showed piles of dead fish in nets, carried headlines such as the ironic, “They Are Stealing Your Fish.” One ad, illustrated by a fish skeleton above a tombstone framed by a boy’s hand clasping his father’s, was headlined, “DADDY, WHAT’S A REDFISH?”
      Sport fishermen began to speak of the redfish as if it were the bison or passenger pigeon of the bays.
“Anyone who was not a fisherman would have believed the propaganda put out by GCCA,” said Bo Cunningham, PISCES president and a wholesale seafood dealer from Seadrift. “It was real emotional, and it cost them a lot of money.”

Texas Gamefish Blues, pp. 55-67. With fishermen weakened after the loss of their keystone species, sportsmen on the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission, in 1988, simply ban the use of nets, by proclamation.
     The number of retail fish markets in Texas declines from nearly 7,000 in 1979 to 3,800 in 1989.

Billy Praker, p. 69-73. Profile of a Galveston net fishermen, in his own words.

     A long time ago, I used to come in with a thousand pounds of fish. If the Sports would see me they’d say I was a damned hog or greedy but, like I’d tell ‘em, “Come look at my house. You don’t see a fish in my house.” They’d act like I was hoardin’ ‘em, fillin’ my yard or stuffin’ my mattress with trout and redfish. But they weren’t for me, they were for people to eat!…I’ve been goin’ to Lou’siana for about four years now, around Sabine Lake, Johnson Bayou. We fish trout and flounder. When I started goin’ over there, a lot of those guys in Lou’siana said, “There’s no way they’re gonna take our redfish away from us.” I said, “It’s comin’ in the future for you guys too,” and they said, “Ain’t no way, they can’t do that.” But the men from the GCCA went over there, and you know what? They did it!


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