Friday, March 15, 2013

Government lured by plastic worms

Soft plastic fishing lures like plastic worms and tube jigs have a proven track record of being the best artificial baits on the market, especially for the likes of bass and panfish. On the strength of these lures, professional anglers have won numerous tournaments and secured good incomes while the average weekend fisherman has landed many a trophy and filled countless frying pans.

Those days of outstanding angling success might be numbered. Believe it or not, some environmentalists have set their sights on these lures. They say that soft plastics pollute the waters and can be consumed by aquatic wildlife like loons, ducks, and otters. They also say that plastic worms sit in the bellies of fish that were lucky enough to get away from fishermen and slowly kill them over time.

Never one to ignore the concerns or demands of environmentalists – no matter how extreme or unfounded some of their views may be – government has picked up on the alleged ills of plastic baits. In Maine, state representative Paul Davis introduced a bill (HP 37) on January 17th that would ban the use of “rubber worms” (the catch-all term for soft plastics baits) within the state.

The bill was met with ire from fisherman not only in Maine but from across the United States as well. A February 5th public hearing on the bill was standing room only while a leading angling organization, BASS (the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society), submitted testimony. Because of that – and for the fact that Representative Davis didn’t even seek co-sponsors because he knew it was a controversial topic - it’s likely that the bill will come to a quick demise. 

Even so, anglers everywhere shouldn’t discount the fact that this has started a conversation that will haunt them in the coming years. This is the first bill of its kind to appear in any state government – and it won’t be the last. Fringe environmentalists are extremely opportunistic; they will pick up on this – as will state legislators or agencies across the land, which could ultimately cause a worm ban to work its way to the federal level and the likes of the Environmental Protection Agency or the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

State governments are Petri dishes for environmental causes, lessons are learned there and policies are developed that can become standards for our nation. Consider the California Air Resources Board, which has been responsible for anything from expensive fuel tanks on lawn mowers, all-terrain vehicles and boats to the destruction of the incandescent light bulb industry. Davis’s proposal could gain similar traction.  

So, while a plastic bait ban may only be in its infancy and destined for failure in Maine, it certainly poses a long-term threat to anglers everywhere that should be taken seriously. There may be a day 10 or 20 years from now when our favorite lure isn’t allowed on the water. With his access to the most effective of lures stifled, the working man who fishes for food or pleasure will see his catch rates drop. It’s not as if he can compensate with live bait, either, as recent years have seen the introduction of laws that severely inhibit or restrict the use of baitfish.

The only way to prevent a worm ban from becoming a reality is to take an active role in policy at the state level, and beat the environmental activists at their own game. Looking at the big picture, this is about more than rubber worms – it’s about freedom.  

Gasport resident Bob Confer also writes for the New American magazine at Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer  

This column originally appeared in the 18 March 2013 Greater Niagara Newspapers

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