Outdoors | Coastal conservation activities highlighted at Manatee banquet

Special to the HeraldMarch 2, 2014 

Catching a trophy fish and watching it swim away is one of the most rewarding feelings for an angler.

Knowing it can live another day to reproduce and possibly provide another angler with the same feeling can outweigh taking a fish home for the dinner table.

Don't get me wrong. I love to eat certain fish, but I understand the need for balance when it comes to keeping what I catch.

Groups like the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) are dedicated to the balance of the fishing resource for long-term prosperity. The stated purpose of CCA is to advise and educate the public on conservation of marine resources. The objective of CCA is to conserve, promote and enhance the present and future availability of these coastal resources for the benefit and enjoyment of the general public.

The CCA began in 1977 "after drastic commercial overfishing along the Texas coast decimated redfish and speckled trout populations," the JoinCCA.org website says. "Fourteen concerned recreational anglers created the Gulf Coast Conservation Assoc iation to combat commercial overfishing."

In 1985, Florida became the fifth state chapter in the CCA.

Since then, the CCA has been in favor of protecting fishing resources. In 1994, the CCA led the push for the net ban that was voted and approved by a 72-percent margin. As the net ban re-emerged into the spotlight this year after a controversial ruling in Tallahassee, the CCA was there to get the ruling upheld once again.

"Without the CCA, recreational fishing in Florida would be very poor," CCA Executive Director Brian Gorski said. "Getting the nets out of the water did wonders for inshore and offshore fisheries. It helped bait and mullet stocks come back while also reducing the amount of waste and kill of premier game fish like snook, trout and redfish."

This past Thursday, I was lucky enough to attend the 15th annual Manatee County CCA Chapter Banquet & Auction presented by Conley Buick GMC at the Bradenton Area Convention Center. I say lucky because the event sold out 475 tickets nearly two weeks in advance.

The event brought together many like-minded anglers in Florida to raise money for the CCA. "All money raised in Florida stays in Florida to protect recreational anglers' rights and to protect the resource. We would spend every last dime fighting the net ban, but it goes far beyond that. We help fund scientific studies, marine science scholarships, build artificial reefs, create finfish hatchers, monitor water quality, support local law enforcement, establish game fish status for recreational species and of course work to prohibit destructive commercial gear," Gorski said.

It was a night filled with silent and live auctions of many fishing- and boating-related items as common as tackle, various rods and reels, Costa del Mar sunglasses, Starbrite cleaning supplies, up to bigger items like Yamaha Engines and trips to premier fishing and hunting destinations.

The ongoing raffle of three separate boats, a Contender, Hells Bay and Pathfinder was present. Tickets can still be purchased for those interested at Crowder Bros. Ace Hardware.

Currently, the CCA Manatee Chapter has more than 400 of the state's 9,000 members. Gorski credits the success of the CCA to volunteers at a local and state level. New members can join for $25 by visiting joinccaflorida.org or donate by calling 407-854-7002.

If you think the CCA is focused solely on protecting inshore game fish, you may be surprised. Gorski says that is one of the biggest misconceptions of the CCA.

"We're not just working to help inshore anglers, we're working on helping offshore recreational anglers too. We all like to fish. We all like to eat fish. Do we promote catch and release? Yes. But we understand why anglers want to keep offshore fish like red snapper and gag grouper. We are working to make sure the state's resources are getting to be enjoyed by recreational anglers, since the recreational value far exceeds the commercial value."

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