Enthralled with sea life and all types of sport-fishing, Randy Fry was abalone diving, one of two things he loved most, when he was killed Aug. 15 in a shark attack off the Mendocino County coast.

Fry's other favorite pastime was fighting for sportfishing and the rights of sport anglers.

Fry, 50, had just a few years earlier parlayed his passion for the ocean and fishing into a full-time job as West Coast Regional Director with the Recreational Fishing Alliance, a New Jersey-based, political-action organization that represents sport anglers and the sportfishing industry. At the time of his death, Fry and RFA were in the middle of several important debates.

"The two biggest issues currently facing California ocean anglers have to do with no-take marine reserves and trying to get a Freedom to Fish Act passed through the state legislature," alliance executive director James Donofrio said. "Randy was at the forefront of these issues, working on them constantly, much of it alone".

"While we could never replace Randy as a person with all his uniqueness, we will stand in for the enthusiasm he left us with the (the alliance) team in California," Donofrio added.

The alliance has already hired Jim Martin of Fort Bragg to take the reins, and the organization seems energized to tackle the issues. While initial attempts at getting a Freedom to Fish Act - sponsored by state Sen. Rico Oller, R-San Andreas - failed in senate committee, Donofrio promises to lobby to have the bill reintroduced every year until successful.

"Two and a half million sport anglers contribute nearly 5 billion dollars annually to the state's economy," Donofrio said. "Yet the radical environmental movement wants to close off vast areas of our oceans by creating no-fishing Marine Protected Areas based not on sound science but on political views."

California sport anglers have paid a heavy price in recent years with cut seasons for most rockfish.

"Basically, recreational anglers have been shut down for six months of the year," Donofrio said. "The sad part about this is, it (depleted fish stocks) wasn't our fault. Recreational anglers take just a small slice of the pie."

That premise is based on long-held observations and a 1999 study by the National Research Council, which estimated recreational anglers take just 2 percent of the overall catch.

However, that figure is being challenged. A recent report initiated and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts titled "The Impact of Recreational Fisheries on Marine Fish Populations" claims recreational anglers are responsible for 5 percent of the overall catch.

To most casual observers, there isn't much difference in the figures. But there is more to the report - and the fishery management policies in place for the conservation of marine resources - than meets the eye.

The Pew study is based on the premise fishery managers don't realize the impact recreational fishing has on fish stocks, Michael Sissenwine, the director of Scientific Programs and Chief Science Advisor for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries said in an article published by Environmental News Service.

But, Sissenwine insists, fishery managers know the potential of recreational fishing and consider that impact when making management decisions on allocations and restrictions.
"I don't think the study offers anything to the science or to the management of fish stocks," Sissenwine said.

Said Donofrio: "Sport anglers can help make their voice heard by joining with the (Recreational Fishing Alliance) and our allied groups such as the Coastside Fishing Club, CENCAL Divers, California Striped Bass Association, Golden Gate Fisherman's Association and Sportfishing Association of California. "Together, we can make a difference. That's what Randy was working on, and that's what he would have wanted us to continue doing."

For more information on the alliance's Northern California Chapter, visit www.rfancalifornia.org or contact the main office at (888) 564-6732.