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posted in: Policy Updates

October 16, 2012

Billfish Conservation Act Passes Congress, Changing Commercial Harvesting Standards

By Jason Schratwieser, Conservation Director, International Game Fish Association

It’s been a long, slow road, but the Billfish Conservation Act of 2011 has been signed into law by the president. The new law prohibits the importation of marlin, sailfish and spearfish in the continental United States. It represents the culmination of nearly four years of sweat equity overcoming hurdles, roadblocks and naysayers.

The Billfish Conservation Act already is making waves around the world, with groups in other countries considering similar measures. Photo by Mac Stone.

The process began from concerns raised from members of the International Game Fish Association, a TRCP partner group, about the large quantities of marlin and sailfish that were being commercially harvested in Central America. For some time, IGFA also had periodically sent letters of opposition to restaurants and grocery stores known to serve or carry marlin and sailfish. However we didn’t really know how big the problem was until went looking.

In 2007 IGFA commissioned a report to investigate the global billfish market. We wanted to find out which countries were harvesting, exporting and importing the most billfish. What we found shocked us. With an average of 2.7 million pounds each year, the U.S. was squarely identified as the world’s biggest importer of billfish.

At that point it became clear that a reactive approach of writing letters to businesses selling billfish was not the answer. To tackle the problem IGFA partnered with the National Coalition for Marine Conservation to develop a proactive campaign to educate the American populace as to what billfish are, their imperiled status and their importance to ocean ecosystems.

The Take Marlin off the Menu campaign was successful in that several very prominent restaurants, grocery stores and even celebrity chefs decided to go “marlin free.” Interactive media polling also showed that the campaign was making an impact in consumers’ perceptions about importing, selling and consuming billfish. Still, we knew the only way we could get rid of America’s dubious distinction was to seek legislation that would end these practices outright.

In 2010 we were successful in introducing legislation in Congress that would ban the commercial harvest, sale and importation of billfish in the U.S. Our billfish report found that annual U.S. billfish market revenues (including harvest and sale from Hawaii) totaled a measly .07 percent of the entire U.S. commercial fishing industry. Nevertheless, Hawaii proved to be an unsurpassable obstacle in the bill’s progress.

By the time the next congressional session convened, we had a new strategy. In order to avoid the ire of commercial fishing interests in Hawaii, we created a carve-out that would exclude Hawaii and the Pacific Insular Territories. Billfish no longer would be able to be imported into the continental U.S., but Hawaii still would be able to harvest and sell billfish commercially. While not our ideal strategy, the strategy allowed us to reach our primary objective: ending the reign of the U.S. as the world’s largest importer of billfish. With the leadership of Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana and Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, the Billfish Conservation Act of 2011 was introduced in the 112th Congress.

The successful progression of the bill did not come from one person, or one organization. It was made into a law with the help of other recreational fishing organizations including the American Sportfishing Association, Center for Coastal Conservation, Coastal Conservation Association, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, Keep America Fishing, National Marine Manufacturers Association, and numerous other NGOs from the conservation community.

We felt that closing the U.S. to billfish imports would do two things: (1) close a sizeable piece of the international billfish market and (2) position the U.S. to take a more aggressive approach to international billfish management and conservation. The Billfish Conservation Act already is making waves around the world, with groups in other countries considering similar measures.

I suppose the old adage “change is slow” is true. But, it sure is sweet when it finally happens.

One Response to “Billfish Conservation Act Passes Congress, Changing Commercial Harvesting Standards”

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Joel Webster

October 4, 2012

National Forest Roadless Lands Conserved as Big-game Seasons Commence

As sportsmen head to the fields, forests and streams this fall, we can be assured that some of America’s finest public lands fish and wildlife habitat will be conserved into the future. On Oct. 1, the Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal of a lower court ruling upholding the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule as the law of the land for the management of 45 million acres in 36 states.

This determination effectively ends all legal uncertainty for the 2001 roadless rule and assures its permanence into the foreseeable future.

The roadless rule represents a balanced and reasonable approach for the management of high value, undeveloped public lands. Photo by Dusan Smetana.

Areas managed under the roadless rule include renowned big-game hunting destinations such as the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming, the Elkhorn Mountains in Montana and the Warner Range of Oregon and California.

These large blocks of undeveloped public lands provide the habitat security necessary for wildlife managers to provide substantial public hunting opportunities for game such as mule deer and elk.

The great thing about the roadless rule is that it represents a balanced and reasonable approach for the management of high value, undeveloped public lands. The rule conserves roadless areas while providing management allowances to protect communities from wildfire, restore habitat and ecosystems and even develop oil and gas, as long as this development is done in ways that maintain the areas’ backcountry values.

Over the past decade, wildlife managers, sportsmen’s organizations, and hunting- and fishing-dependent businesses across the nation have spoken in favor of the management assurances and high quality habitat provided by the roadless rule. The TRCP has been working alongside our partners to advance this popular policy since our organization was founded in 2002.

With big-game hunting seasons commencing across the country, sportsmen can celebrate by grabbing our gear and setting out in pursuit of deer, elk and other critters on America’s national forest lands. This Supreme Court decision represents an unqualified victory for our community.

Whit Fosburgh

September 25, 2012

With Economics, Access and Conservation, Sportsmen’s Act is Easy to Love

Early Saturday morning, the U.S. Senate voted to advance the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 – a package of more than 20 measures that promote public hunting and fishing access, habitat conservation and strongly funded resource management—toward final action when Congress returns to session after the November elections. To describe the bill, authored by Montana Sen. Jon Tester and supported by a bipartisan coalition of senators, as friendly to public hunting, fishing and conservation is an understatement.  The act promotes values central to the TRCP and other hunting and fishing organizations vision of guaranteeing every American a place to hunt and fish.

You may have heard grumblings about how this bill is bad—mostly from those who oppose the current law, which would be reaffirmed by the bill – that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot regulate lead ammunition and fishing tackle. Instead, the bill leaves those decisions to state fish and game agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which currently regulate ammo and tackle.

Driftboat by Dusan Smetana
The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 has a broad economic and social impact, improves access and supports habitat conservation. Photo by Dusan Smetana.

But the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 offers a lot more to like than criticize. And in a Congress marked by partisan conflict and divisiveness, the fact that a bill aimed at expanding public access for recreational opportunities – including hunting and fishing – passed by such a wide margin confirms the importance of these activities to our nation’s heritage and our economy.

Why is the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 important?

It has broad economic and social impacts. Sportsmen and -women have a long history of promoting species and public lands conservation. This bill embraces that legacy. A national survey undertaken in 2011 found that more than 90 million Americans participate in hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. Hunters and anglers alone account for close to $100 billion in annual economic activity and support more than 900,000 sustainable U.S. jobs.

It improves access. Sportsmen cite the loss of access as the No. 1 reason they quit hunting or fishing. This bill reauthorizes the Federal Lands Transaction Facilitation Act, which uses a “land for land” approach to improve access. It also sets aside 1.5 percent from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to specifically address access issues by purchasing in-holdings on existing public lands and securing easements to access-restricted acreage.

It supports habitat conservation. Sportsmen and -women are significant financial contributors to habitat conservation. The bill continues other critical habitat investment programs that have expired, including the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, the work of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act. In total, these programs leverage $4 of private investment for each dollar from the program.

After the elections, we’ll reach out to you with an opportunity to contact your elected officials in the U.S. House and Senate to complete work on the Sportsmen’s Act. In the meantime, the Senate’s leadership deserve a “thank you” from all sportsmen. 

Whit Fosburgh

September 18, 2012

Making Lands Work for Wildlife

Photo by Dusan Smetana.

This Sunday, Sept. 16, Dave White and Dan Ashe, the heads of the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, respectively, attended the TRCP’s annual Western Media Summit and briefed participants about a groundbreaking species conservation plan that was formally unveiled this week.

In summary, the plan provides long-term (up to 30 years) regulatory predictability to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners participating in USDA’s Working Lands for Wildlife initiative. Under the agreement, participants voluntarily implement proven conservation practices designed to protect fish and wildlife habitat, including habitat for several at-risk species and vulnerable game species on private lands. The plan initially identifies seven species, including sage grouse and lesser prairie chicken, as targets.

What makes the agreement unique? First of all, it recognizes that species conservation works best when private landowners are active partners in the process. To make this happen, the agreement recognizes that (a) funds must be made available to help implement important projects and (b) landowners must have assurance that the government won’t keep moving the goal line.

Certainty is key. If a landowner undertakes conservation projects that work and a listed species moves onto his or her lands, or if a resident non-listed species like sage grouse becomes listed under the Endangered Species Act, he or she must be confident that these lands won’t suddenly be subject to new land use restrictions or penalties.

Such “safe harbor” agreements are not unique – they have become a tried and true part of implementing the Endangered Species Act on private lands. What is unique about the new plan is its duration and scope.

For example, sage grouse habitat runs from Northern California east to South Dakota and from Canada south to southern Colorado. Second, 30 years is a long time, allowing landowners to make long-term decisions about managing their lands. Finally, the NRCS allocated $33 million in its 2012 budget for the WLFW initiative (the funds will go to private landowners to implement agreed-upon projects), so this is not just another empty federal program with no funding to back it up.

Yes, some questions remain. Does the agency or agencies have the resources to monitor implementation over time, especially as their budgets are likely to be shaved when and if Congress ever gets serious about deficit reduction? Will future administrations share this commitment to cooperative private land conservation? And while $33 million is a good start, it’s only a fraction of what will be needed long term to conserve wildlife species that are sensitive to management practices on private on private lands. But it takes a step toward addressing a huge problem.

Why should sportsmen care? First, the seven species listed in the agreement are surrogates for many other species. Protecting and restoring sage grouse directly benefits mule deer and pronghorn, which share the same habitats.

Second, about half of all Americans hunt only on private lands. It’s in everyone’s interest to make sure these lands are as healthy and productive for fish and wildlife as possible – and that landowners have the resources and long-term regulatory certainty to keep farms and ranches together and working

Finally, in-your-face fights about endangered species, from wolves to spotted owls, help no one. They divide and breed resentment from private landowners about the federal government and conservation.

Expect to hear carping from extremists on both sides about this either being a new intrusion of the federal government into the lives of private landowners or an abdication of federal regulatory authority. Ignore such rhetoric. These parties have made a living feeding the flames of paranoia and sowing dissent and seem to care far more about keeping fights alive than recovering species.

The bottom line: the new agreement is a common-sense and innovative step forward that explicitly recognizes the important role of private landowners in species conservation. Secretaries Vilsack and Salazar should be commended.

September 12, 2012

Take Action: Sportsmen Need a Farm Bill Now

Time is running out for the single most important piece of legislation for private lands fish and wildlife conservation in the nation. Photo courtesy of USFWS.

Despite its name, the Farm Bill isn’t just for farmers; the legislation benefits Americans of all stripes, including sportsmen like you. The conservation title of the Farm Bill directs more than $5 billion each year to key private lands conservation initiatives in all 50 states.

These programs help restore and conserve fish and wildlife habitat, improve the quality of our air and water and reduce soil erosion. The Farm Bill helps our nation’s farmers and ranchers responsibly steward the American landscape, an investment that boasts fantastic returns.

Passed every five years, the current Farm Bill is set to expire on Sept. 30. Congressional inaction on the Farm Bill puts billions of dollars of cost-effective conservation funding and millions of acres of incredibly productive fish and wildlife habitat on the chopping block. These are the very places on which hunters and anglers across the country depend for quality experiences afield.

On Sept. 30, the federal Farm Bill will expire, along with billions of dollars for conservation funding. Contact your representatives and urge them to pass a Farm Bill now!

Contact your representatives and urge them to pass a Farm Bill now!

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