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Different perspectives on underwater vision

By DAVE GUSSOW

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 11, 1999


Rich McBride used to keep the fish he caught. Then he saw the sport from the fish's perspective.

"Since I've used the (underwater) camera and can see the world down there, the whole ecosystem, I've become extremely conservative about it and now I'm catch and release," said McBride, president of SeaView Underwater Research in Tierra Verde.

Despite McBride's philosophical conversion, others worry that underwater cameras add one weapon too many to a fisherman's arsenal that already includes everything from global positioning satellite units that can pinpoint a favorite fishing hole to devices that show bottom contours.

Enough, some in Minnesota say. That state's legislature tried last year to ban underwater cameras for fishing, a proposal that passed the Senate overwhelmingly but died in the House.

"Sport fishing here in Minnesota is a passion to a point of religion, and people are very protective," said Jeff Zernov, founder of Aqua-Vu, a Minnesota maker of underwater cameras. "They consider the lakes their personal lakes, and the fish their personal fish. They're very concerned that technology will increase the harvest."

Zernov's alternative to a complete ban: If people use cameras, limit the number of fish they can keep, or don't let them keep any fish at all. Catch and release, he says, will promote the long-term health of the fishery.

The point, Zernov says, is to make using the camera an enjoyable and successful experience for the user while preserving the resource.

"If someone introduces a new product or technology and says not to catch a fish with this, no one would buy it," Zernov said. "Our industry exists to teach people and (for them) to be more successful in their sport."

Bob Lessard, a fishing guide and chairman of Minnesota's Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, draws a harder line, saying the camera tips the balance more in the fisherman's favor.

"The question I want to know is, when does something cease to be a sport?" Lessard told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune last year. "Part of fishing is the unknown. The death knell of fair chase is using the camera in the act of catching a fish."

No proposals have been made to ban the cameras in Florida, said a spokesman for the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.

Experts here say the camera is not unfair to the fish.

McBride has attached bait to his SeaView camera and trolled it behind his boat, capturing on video the fish striking. McBride conceded the video could provide an unfair advantage "but the camera can't make the fish bite."

George Poveromo, senior editor of Salt Water Sportsman magazine, said the camera at most can "help you investigate areas that you're going to fish."

"One thing I learned about fish," said Treasure Island charter boat captain Larry Hoffman. "You're not going to outsmart them. I don't consider it an unfair advantage."

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