Mia Sheppard

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posted in: General

November 21, 2013

The Chukar Hunt

BLM Backcountry Oregon Chukar Hunt
In Oregon, the BLM manages 16 million acres of public lands, giving hunters endless opportunities to experience a quality hunt. Photo by Mia Sheppard.

A pointing dog’s ultimate challenge and a wing shooter’s nemesis, the chukar is a high speed game bird that runs like the wind and flies like thunder. They live in the arid, high desert regions of many Western states, scampering over upland basalt rim rock ledges. When being pursued the wily birds hold up just long enough for you to get within a 40-yard shot, lift the shotgun, swing and pull the trigger. If you’re not startled by the take-off you might get lucky and hit one.

Over the years, I’ve crossed paths with many coveys and managed to hit a few birds. But when you ask most bird hunters if they hunt chukar their reply is usually the same,  “Hell, I gave up chasing those devil birds years ago.”  They may have learned their lesson but I have yet to learn mine.

I can’t give up on the chukar. In fact, I’ve only become more obsessed by these mischievous, Eurasian upland birds that were introduced to North America in the mid 1950’s. And today, I head out to chase these devil birds.

As we near our destination, fog rolls over the hills and we drive into the thick of it. The fog is so dense that the truck slows to 40 mph and I can only see 20 feet in front of me. Skeptical of the conditions, we don’t say much and keep driving until we hit a muddy dirt road that is slick from last night’s rain and rutted from years of use.  A little further up the hill I park the truck. We will be hunting Bureau of Land Management (BLM) backcountry land.

In Oregon, the BLM manages 16 million acres of public lands, giving hunters endless opportunities to experience a quality hunt with few people in sight. Today we are the only people for miles.  I’ve hunted this spot for a number of years so I know where to go; I’ve crossed these rusty fences and watched chukar dive from the breaks escaping six-shot pellets by the dozen. I hope we see a few coveys today.

Hunting chukar provides an opportunity to experience wide open, undisturbed space and watch the dogs work. My dog Cedar is excited. He’s been here before. Lifting his nose in the air, he follows the scent.  He’s not even 15 minutes from the car when his tail starts wagging faster and faster. His shoulders drop, he points and starts creeping in.  I whoa, Cedar stops, moves in a little closer and the birds flush just out of range; no shots taken. Chukar are amazingly skittish at times, making a shot difficult but I’m confident we will see more.

We keep working the break. The wind is in our favor and Cedar works into it. Suddenly, he takes a hard right, slouches down and creeps forward like a cat trying to sneak up on a mouse. We all move slowly, trying to ambush our target. Cedar holds point and Lucas and George move in. A covey of 20 birds flush. Shots are fired and a bird hits the ground. Cedar breaks and yelps out a victory cry. He disappears and a few minutes later prances back with a bird in his mouth.

 

BLM Hunt Bird Dog With Chukar
Join us in the effort to ensure public access to backcountry areas. Photo by Mia Sheppard.

Join us in ensuring public access to BLM backcountry areas. Part of my work with the TRCP is  to ensure that backcountry areas such as this are conserved by keeping core fish and wildlife areas intact. We  want to maintain public access to backcountry areas – while  balancing the needs for energy development. Without this balance, our favorite places to hunt and fish will be lost forever.   

Watch the video below to find out how you can get involved.

Conserve Oregon’s Best Backcountry Hunting and Fishing

 

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Mia Sheppard

by:

posted in: General

The Chukar Hunt

BLM Backcountry Oregon Chukar Hunt
In Oregon, the BLM manages 16 million acres of public lands, giving hunters endless opportunities to experience a quality hunt. Photo by Mia Sheppard.

A pointing dog’s ultimate challenge and a wing shooter’s nemesis, the chukar is a high speed game bird that runs like the wind and flies like thunder. They live in the arid, high desert regions of many Western states, scampering over upland basalt rim rock ledges. When being pursued the wily birds hold up just long enough for you to get within a 40-yard shot, lift the shotgun, swing and pull the trigger. If you’re not startled by the take-off you might get lucky and hit one.

Over the years, I’ve crossed paths with many coveys and managed to hit a few birds. But when you ask most bird hunters if they hunt chukar their reply is usually the same,  “Hell, I gave up chasing those devil birds years ago.”  They may have learned their lesson but I have yet to learn mine.

I can’t give up on the chukar. In fact, I’ve only become more obsessed by these mischievous, Eurasian upland birds that were introduced to North America in the mid 1950’s. And today, I head out to chase these devil birds.

As we near our destination, fog rolls over the hills and we drive into the thick of it. The fog is so dense that the truck slows to 40 mph and I can only see 20 feet in front of me. Skeptical of the conditions, we don’t say much and keep driving until we hit a muddy dirt road that is slick from last night’s rain and rutted from years of use.  A little further up the hill I park the truck. We will be hunting Bureau of Land Management (BLM) backcountry land.

In Oregon, the BLM manages 16 million acres of public lands, giving hunters endless opportunities to experience a quality hunt with few people in sight. Today we are the only people for miles.  I’ve hunted this spot for a number of years so I know where to go; I’ve crossed these rusty fences and watched chukar dive from the breaks escaping six-shot pellets by the dozen. I hope we see a few coveys today.

Hunting chukar provides an opportunity to experience wide open, undisturbed space and watch the dogs work. My dog Cedar is excited. He’s been here before. Lifting his nose in the air, he follows the scent.  He’s not even 15 minutes from the car when his tail starts wagging faster and faster. His shoulders drop, he points and starts creeping in.  I whoa, Cedar stops, moves in a little closer and the birds flush just out of range; no shots taken. Chukar are amazingly skittish at times, making a shot difficult but I’m confident we will see more.

We keep working the break. The wind is in our favor and Cedar works into it. Suddenly, he takes a hard right, slouches down and creeps forward like a cat trying to sneak up on a mouse. We all move slowly, trying to ambush our target. Cedar holds point and Lucas and George move in. A covey of 20 birds flush. Shots are fired and a bird hits the ground. Cedar breaks and yelps out a victory cry. He disappears and a few minutes later prances back with a bird in his mouth.

 

BLM Hunt Bird Dog With Chukar
Join us in the effort to ensure public access to backcountry areas. Photo by Mia Sheppard.

Join us in ensuring public access to BLM backcountry areas. Part of my work with the TRCP is  to ensure that backcountry areas such as this are conserved by keeping core fish and wildlife areas intact. We  want to maintain public access to backcountry areas – while  balancing the needs for energy development. Without this balance, our favorite places to hunt and fish will be lost forever.   

Watch the video below to find out how you can get involved.

Conserve Oregon’s Best Backcountry Hunting and Fishing

 

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posted in: General

November 20, 2013

Wind Power: Coming to a Coast Near You

 

               Despite what the skeptics say, offshore wind power could be good for saltwater anglers

Depending on who you talk to, offshore wind power (wind farms at sea composed of multiple turbines) is the best thing in the world or the worst.  What I tend to believe is that most people think that offshore wind equates to “sustainable energy” with a minor footprint, certainly smaller than that of oil and gas.  To some extent that’s correct, although the footprint may not be all that minor, and really they are not yet “sustainable” in the true sense, although hopefully they are headed that way.

 Because these massive wind farms are offshore, in one of the most salt-laden/corrosive environments in the world, it takes an awful lot of diesel fuel (think boats with maintenance crews) to maintain them.  I should note here that this is still a young technology, is far from perfect, and not yet profitable mainly because of the maintenance costs.  It’s pretty well known that most of the European wind farms receive government subsidies and that’s presumably the only way they can exist.  It’s my personal opinion that, as a society, we will never get sustainable, environmentally-friendly power right unless we start somewhere, so I understand the rationale. 

 Regardless, wind power is hip.  Overall, the American people seem to like it and want it, and the current administration seems to be into it.  As watermen we all know that at sea, wind blows harder and longer, and suitable sites (note: “not in my backyard”) are more readily available to enable large projects to operate.  Perhaps more important than any of this is that there’s a lot of money being dumped into offshore wind right now by huge companies like Google.  The point is, offshore wind farms are likely coming soon.  I don’t think there’s any stopping them at this point.

 So, let’s take a look at what it means for us.  Sure, there’s the domestic, sustainable energy stuff, and I’m down with all that. But at the risk of seeming parochial, I’m pretty much only looking at this from a fisheries perspective.  With that said, I was invited to go to the United Kingdom with a group of commercial and recreational fishing interests (sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy) to ground truth their offshore wind power programs.  The trip was basically a fact-finding mission to see what these things meant for fishermen and fishing communities. 

 Sure, we spent a lot of time in pubs, talking to local fishermen and representatives from various fishing organizations.  We also spent quite a bit of time in government agency offices, and even wind power industry offices.  But what was without a doubt the most memorable part of the trip was steaming though the Thanet Wind Farm, which is located about seven miles off the coast of the Thanet district in KentEngland and consists of almost 200 wind turbines.  Man that was cool!  And of course I was thinking how “fishy” it all looked.  Each structure was a potential fish magnet.  Unquestionably, such structures would draw in tons of life if they existed on our coast, particularly in the Mid-Atlantic, where save for a scattered array of deteriorating artificial reefs (most states just don’t have the money to add to or maintain them anymore), it’s pretty much all sand.  It’s intuitive to anglers that fish aggregate around such objects placed in the sea. We pretty much always look for “structure” even if it’s something as simple as a depth change.  I mean, you don’t need to look any further than the Gulf of Mexico’s oil platforms to see the potential benefits.   

 In case you aren’t convinced, the analysis of existing wind farms in the English Channel and North Sea have shown an increase in biomass by 50 to 150 times!  Such structures provide a hard stable substrata for colonization by a range of marine organisms.   Mussels, barnacles, tubeworms, hydroids, sponges, soft corals and other invertebrates, attach themselves permanently to the structures attracting various free-living invertebrates and small fish, which in turn attract predators.  The science has been pretty clear that they increase species diversity, biomass and general productivity.  The biomass increases have been shown to be particularly steep if such hard substrate structures are placed in soft substrate environments.

 So really, these things could be damn good for fish.  But that means far less if we can’t access them.  As mentioned, offshore wind power really isn’t profitable yet.  And so there is a justifiable fear that, given the liability that developers may face for accidents that may happen, fishermen may simply be shut out.   While the oil industry can likely afford such risk, a fledgling industry like wind power probably can’t.  That said, access has not been an issue thus far in the UK.  Anglers and charter operations have complete right-of-entry to the sites. The only constraint is a 50 meter “recommended” safety zone around each turbine.  Commercial boats can enter the safety zone too, although it’s obvious that trawlers would have gear problems.  Fixed gear (e.g. pots) have also been problematic as currents tend to wrap them around the structures.  So by default, such arrays become hook-and-line only zones, which most readers of this blog would agree, isn’t a terrible thing. 

 On the other hand, North Sea fishermen were not so lucky.  The Swedish, Danish and German governments, based on environmental and safety assessments as well as a simple cost-benefit analysis, did indeed shut fishermen out.  The risks to cables, liability within the farms and search and rescue issues were all driving factors.  Of course, in that region fishermen weren’t considered as culturally and economically important as they are here, and the fishing industry also didn’t really engage in the development process until it was too late.  There were also regionally powerful environmental groups who pushed for no-fishing zones. 

 While this is indeed a concern, I do not believe that would happen on our coast.  The agency in charge of such offshore wind power – the Bureau of Energy Management (BOEM) – says on their website that they do not intend to restrict vessel traffic in and around offshore wind facilities.  If a safety zone or buffer were implemented, it would be by the Coast Guard, who has said publicly that they have no intention of establishing such zones on wind farms.  If a safety zone is ever deemed necessary it would follow formal proposed and final rulemaking (with public comment).  Could the developers themselves exclude anglers?  Very unlikely.  They would need to go through an extensive public process to do so, and given the public’s historical use and their desire for continued access, it would likely fail. 

 We should be well aware, however, that during construction, which may last one to two years, anglers will be prohibited from entering the area.  It should also be noted that that pile driving during the construction phase does create high levels of underwater noise, which likely will drive fish away.  There will be further considerable turbidity as the bottom gets stirred up.  Marine predators simply don’t like such murky water.  Yet, studies have shown that abundance of both fish and marine mammals not only return but increase post-construction. 

 Yes, there’s some concern, albeit unfounded in my opinion, about noise and vibration admitted by the wind farms once they are operating.  Studies conducted in the United Kingdom indicate the amount of noise and vibration is negligible compared to both natural and prior-occurring noise and vibration.  That said, an electromagnetic field (EMF) produced by the lines that transfer electricity from the array to shore could indeed have some negative effect.  Natural EMFs are detected by sharks, skates, rays and are used for prey detection, finding mates and orientation.  There’s some science indicating lobsters, turtles and cetaceans and are may use EMF for orientation, navigation and homing.  And so there’s some speculation that anthropogenic EMF may disrupt natural movements.  The evidence to support this is sparse though, and there are no data available that allow an assessment of impact. 

 So here’s my honest, no BS take on all of this.  I’m not terribly concerned about the environmental impacts of these things.  Sure, it may suck for a year or two during construction, but generally the long-term increase in biodiversity will outweigh all of that stuff.  I think there are extremists from the environmental community who claim that these wind turbine arrays at sea will alter fish migration patterns, and they may be right to some extent.  God forbid fish actually have to swim around them, and given the wide spacing of the ones that I saw (from what I’m told, the newer larger turbines will require even more space between each other)  I’m not sure what fish couldn’t simply swim through the farms.  And there are also some folks who still think that there will be “vibrations” that will negatively affect fish and the marine environment.  Please show me the science that this is the case?  As far as I can tell, it doesn’t exist.  And then there are the bird people.  Apparently these things kill a few birds trying to fly though.  Seriously???  I can’t help but think there’s some natural selection here.  Why birds can’t simply fly around is not within my understanding of bird migration patterns.

 On the commercial fishing side, there is genuine concern that large areas will be off limits, due simply to the difficultly of fishing inside of these things, and there is always the issue of catching a cable (believe it or not, that’s happened in Europe more than once).  While there are those extremists would have us all believe that the current administration’s ocean policy and particularly the marine spatial planning initiative is a conspiracy to end all fishing, (remember this article?) it is exactly this sort of circumstance that the initiative seeks to address.  It gives fishermen a say in where development is appropriate and where it isn’t.  In other words, they have some input in where wind farms may be placed.  That’s pretty darn important I think! 

 The bottom line is this: experience from the past 15 years in Europe shows that wind farms can be engineered and operated without damage to the marine environment and vulnerable species. Comprehensive environmental monitoring confirms that even large wind farms pose low risks.  Of course, I may end up being drastically wrong, but unless someone can convince me otherwise, I can’t see how wind farms won’t be a boon for recreational fishing.  Really, we should be welcoming these things. Generally, all I’m hearing is pushback, although I have yet to hear reasonable explanation why, save for the access issue which I’ve covered here. 

 When will we see wind farm construction along our coasts?  It looks like construction isn’t that far off.  BOEM has identified several Wind Energy Areas (WEA) off the East Coast that appear suitable. A number of states on the Atlantic coast have initiated planning for offshore wind projects and developers are currently pursuing leases.

 Unless there is some big change in policy, it looks like I may actually see wind farms off our coast in my life time.  I hope I’m not dreadfully wrong about my assessment, but I’m actually looking forward to this. I can’t help but think it will mean better and more consistent fishing, not to mention a big move toward more sustainable energy.  

Steve Kline

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posted in: General

November 18, 2013

Call on Congress to Support Strong Conservation Policy in the New Farm Bill

Right now, members of a Congressional conference committee are debating the fate of the 2013 Farm Bill.  The Farm Bill has a huge influence on our nation’s conservation funding and policy.

Please join thousands of other conservationists, farmers and ranchers, scientists, hunters and anglers, and concerned citizens and call your Representative and Senators TODAY!

All Senators and Representatives need to hear from you, but members of the conference committee are especially important.  Please call conferees at the numbers below, and reach all other members of Congress through the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

When you call, ask to speak to or leave a message for the staff member who works on agriculture issues, and then use the following as a guide:

Hello, my name is __________, and I’m calling today from (city) to ask Representative / Senator __________ to support a five-year Farm Bill in 2013 with strong conservation measures.

Specifically, I urge Representative / Senator __________ to support:

  • re-linking basic conservation compliance safeguards to crop insurance premium assistance and to oppose weakening of our current soil and wetland protections; and
  • a national Sodsaver program to protect our nation’s remaining prairies; and
  • no additional funding cuts to Farm Bill conservation programs.

I also strongly urge the Senator / Congress(wo)man to convey his/her support for these conservation priorities to the Farm Bill Conference Committee leadership as soon as possible.

Thank you for considering my views.

Use the numbers below to contact members of the conference committee.

Title

Name

State

Washington, DC Office

District Office

Representative Roby, Martha

AL

202-225-2901

334-277-9113

Representative Rogers, Michael D.

AL

202-225-3261

 256-236-5655
Representative Crawford, Rick

AR

202-225-4076

 870-203-0540
Senator Boozman, John N.

AR

202-224-4843

 501-372-7153
Representative Denham, Jeffrey John

CA

202-225-4540

 209-579-5458
Representative Costa, Jim

CA

202-225-3341

 559-495-1620
Representative Negrete McLeod, Gloria

CA

202-225-6161

 909-626-2054
Representative Royce, Edward R.

CA

202-225-4111

 714-255-0101
Senator Bennet, Michael

CO

202-224-5852

 303-455-7600
Representative Southerland, Steve

FL

202-225-5235

850-561-3979
Representative Scott, Austin

GA

202-225-6531

 229-396-5175
Senator Chambliss, Saxby

GA

202-224-3521

 770-763-9090
Representative King, Steven A.

IA

202-225-4426

 515-232-2885
Senator Harkin, Tom

IA

202-224-3254

 515-284-4574
Representative Davis, Rodney

IL

202-225-2371

 217-403-4690
Senator Roberts, Pat

KS

202-224-4774

316-263-0416
Representative McGovern, James P.

MA

202-225-6101

 508-831-7356
Representative Camp, Dave

MI

202-225-3561

 231-876-9205
Representative Levin, Sander M.

MI

202-225-4961

 586-498-7122
Senator Stabenow, Debbie

MI

202-224-4822

 616-975-0052
Representative Walz, Timothy J.

MN

202-225-2472

 507-388-2149
Representative Peterson, Collin C.

MN

202-225-2165

 218-253-4356
Senator Klobuchar, Amy

MN

202-224-3244

 612-727-5220
Senator Cochran, Thad

MS

202-224-5054

 601-965-4459
Senator Baucus, Max

MT

202-224-2651

 406-586-6104
Representative McIntyre, Mike

NC

202-225-2731

 910-862-1437
Senator Hoeven, John

ND

202-224-2551

 701-250-4618
Representative Engel, Eliot L.

NY

202-225-2464

914-699-4100
Representative Fudge, Marcia L.

OH

202-225-7032

 216-522-4900
Senator Brown, Sherrod

OH

202-224-2315

 216-522-7272
Representative Lucas, Frank D.

OK

202-225-5565

 405-373-1958
Representative Schrader, Kurt

OR

202-225-5711

 503-588-9100
Representative Thompson, Glenn

PA

202-225-5121

 814-353-0215
Representative Marino, Thomas

PA

202-225-3731

 570-322-3961
Representative Noem, Kristi

SD

202-225-2801

 605-275-2868
Representative Johnson, Sam

TX

202-225-4201

 469-304-0382
Representative Conaway, K. Michael

TX

202-225-3605

 432-687-2390
Representative Neugebauer, Robert

TX

202-225-4005

 325-675-9779
Representative Vela, Filemon

TX

202-225-9901

 956-544-8352
Senator Leahy, Patrick J.

VT

202-224-4242

 802-863-2525
Representative DelBene, Suzan

WA

202-225-6311

 425-485-0085

Additional background:

  • Conservation compliance is one of our nation’s most successful conservation policies.  For nearly 30 years, farmers have agreed to conserve fragile soils and maintain wetlands in exchange for taxpayer support of the farm safety net.  Conservation compliance has reduced erosion by about 295 million tons of soil per year and has protected millions of acres of wetlands.  Re-connecting conservation compliance measures now to federal crop insurance will ensure decades of conservation gains are not lost.
  • America’s remaining grasslands provide important habitat for wildlife and are a critical resource for ranching communities.  Several studies have shown, however, that various federal programs are incentivizing conversion of grassland to cropland, despite the fact that much of this land is marginal for crop production.  A national Sodsaver program would reduce these incentives and save taxpayers’ dollars, while still leaving management decisions to the landowner.

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posted in: General

November 14, 2013

ON RIVER HERRING AND SHAD, IT’S TIME TO MOVE ON

Fighting a shad — Photo courtesy of fishwithmj.com

Past votes won’t assure the river herring’s future

Yes, in my last blog, I said that this week I’d address some of the misconceptions on slot limits and gamefish for striped bass.  That’s not gonna happen, for a few of reasons.  One is that, well, I’ve already done it in a prior blog, although apparently not thoroughly enough.  So, I will indeed address this in the future… when it’s more appropriate.  As I mentioned in my last blog ASMFC Moves on Striped Bass, in February the board will consider an addendum that would simply seek to reduce fishing mortality (adoption of the new, more conservative fishing mortality reference points).  In May, a second addendum that would cover what regulations would get us to such a reduction will be considered.  Given the latter is when the slot-limit discussion will likely take place, it’s probably more appropriate to wait until then to cover it here.   Lastly, I’m not sure how I can justify writing for four consecutive weeks on striped bass without this becoming the John McMurray striped bass blog.  There are indeed other issues out there.  And this week I’m gonna cover a big one:  uhm, striper forage.  Okay, so this is related to striped bass, but there’s a much broader picture here. 

Before moving forward, in case you didn’t read it, here is my blog on the last Mid Atlantic Council meeting (River Herring and Shad Lose at the Mid ) where we considered adding river herring and shad to our federally managed stocks.  Perhaps more importantly here’s a darn good response to a post on Talkingfish.org written by a colleague and “recreational” council member. (note: scroll down to the end of the article to see the comment:  To My Fellow Recreational Fishermen).  I can’t say I disagree with some of what’s said there.  It’s true that “Recreational fishermen are appointed to bring the perspective and experience of a recreational fisherman to the council and to insure that the interests of recreational fishermen are addressed,” that fishery resources “belong to every American” and that “Council members are sworn to protect the resource first with the interests of all of those that benefit from the resource being the very next priority.”  It is also true that “We are to weigh all of the information and base our actions on what we believe to be the most reliable of that information” and that “a member has to respect each group’s concerns and try to formulate plans that work for everyone.”  And I agree with the statements about moving on and holding the council’s feet to the fire.   

Those are all good points.  Yet, the response missed the most important point of all:  As council members we have an overarching obligation to uphold the law – in this case the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act – which clearly stipulates that we make decisions that provide for the greatest good of the nation. 

It is pretty darn clear at this point that large numbers of river herring and shad are being caught in federal waters, and that such fish are badly in need of conservation and management, and if that’s the case, it looks like the law requires that we manage them under a federal Fishery Management Plan (FMP).  Given all the data on the species, it’s difficult for anyone to credibly argue river herring and shad aren’t in a bad place.  Sure, there may be some isolated recovering runs in northern New England, but they are the exception to the coast-wide trend.  These species are unquestionably depleted and are caught and actually sold in large numbers so they are most certainly “in the fishery.”  And while they are already being managed in state waters by ASMFC, these fish do spend most of their lives at sea, they are being taken incidentally at sea and they need to be managed at sea; in fact, Magnuson-Stevens seems to require that they be managed at sea.  Yes, both New England and the Mid Atlantic Councils have implemented “catch caps” which would shut down the sea herring and mackerel fisheries if river herring or shad catch met or exceeded certain poundage limits, but without 100% observer coverage (or something close to it), and real measures to prevent net slippage/dumping of catch before it comes on board to actually be counted against those limits, the cap is simply unenforceable.  Yes, there are some voluntary bycatch avoidance efforts being made by the sea herring and mackerel fisheries, but they are just that–“voluntary”– they have yet to be proven effective, and are no substitute for legally mandated, enforceable conservation measures. 

While these are all points I’ve made before, the overarching point here is that this was not a case where a small interest group was petitioning for special protection.   Managing river herring and shad under a federal FMP seemed to be clearly in the wide public interest, and arguably a legal requirement.  So it’s a little bit irritating that the above referenced response seems to paint this as an environmentalist push to do something outrageous.  Moving forward with a stocks-in-a-fishery Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) had broad and diverse backing, and lost by only one vote at the Council.  The public comment/letters in the briefing book (over 37,000) showed overwhelming support and came not just from the environmental community, but from representatives of well-respected recreational groups, scientists, and even commercial fishing organizations.  The only organization that provided written comment in opposition was a commercial fishing organization representing corporations with a direct financial interest in avoiding restrictions on the fleet. (And by-the-way, no environmental group truly involved in council deliberations, as far as I know, ever wanted to shut down the fluke fishery… and while there’s some truth to the dogfish comment, it’s another red herring as the best available science at the time suggested that a population collapse was imminent). 

Protecting forage fish is unquestionably a priority for fishermen, because such fish are near the base of the food web and support the most important recreational as well as commercially valuable species.  A vote in favor of managing river herring and shad under a federal FMP in October, to me, would have represented a real effort to control at-sea catch.  It would have honored the conservation tradition of generations of anglers and the ongoing work and sacrifices of current anglers up and down the Atlantic Coast to conserve river herring and shad.  I do understand the justification for those who voted against it, but I couldn’t help but see a vote to manage them under a federal FMP as recreational priority, and somewhat of a litmus test.  And I’ve gotta say here that while of course we have to all work together to develop solutions that work best for everyone, a recreational seat does, indeed, exist to present and highlight, to a large extent, the interests of the recreational community, within the law of course, just as an industry seats frequently highlight commercial fishing interests.  Regardless, by taking real tangible steps to conserve and protect forage fish, you support conservation of other managed stocks important to anglers and commercial fishermen in an exponential way. 

At this particular meeting, we weren’t even voting to make river herring and shad federally managed stocks, just to move forward with a DEIS that would have simply given us a full analysis of what it would take to do this, enabling the council to make an informed decision.  As the response noted, a council member is obligated to decide issues based on “all of the information” and to give the greatest weight to “the most reliable of that information.”  I’m still having a hard time understanding why anyone would vote against a process designed to provide the council with more and better information about available management alternatives.  Sure it would have taken resources to develop such a document, but the public made it clear (with over 37,000 comments) that this was a priority worthy of resources. Instead, we now have an obligation to develop a “working group”, which, if it is to accomplish anything, would likely require resources as well—except with no commitment to them.  Moving forward with the DEIS was the next logical (and likely legally required) step in weighing all the information, and I thought we had formed a consensus to do just that when we voted to move forward with Amendment 15 in June of 2012.

At any rate, enough rehashing all this stuff.  I think at this point, we all understand each other, and to some extent it doesn’t really matter any longer.  Now that the council’s decision has been made (unless it is legally invalidated in court, where it is currently being challenged) we need to move forward.  It’s now imperative that we focus on the observer coverage issue (getting people on the boats to gage what the incidental river herring and shad catch really is).  We already voted such 100% coverage last year, but it’s pretty much a given at this point that NOAA Fisheries will say that even with industry sharing the costs,  it’s impossible given funding constraints.  We will almost certainly have to move forward with a provision that would require that the small mesh net industry pay 100% of observer costs if we are to hope for significant coverage.  In my opinion this is not unreasonable given that these fish are a public resource and we are allowing the large scale harvest of them for profit.  The people gaining from such a public resource should pay whatever price is required to make sure they are doing it sustainably while minimizing incidental catch.  I hope industry will step up and support such a proposal, and the initial indication is that they will.  The council also needs to pass a strong “framework” to address unobserved dumping or “slippage,” (releasing the net so that the catch cannot be accounted for). Allowing the net to be “slipped” before it can be sampled by observers undermines the potential for the cap to be meaningful; slippage allowances should really be limited to only true emergencies.

Yes, I was bummed that instead of going with the stocks in a fishery model, the council voted in favor of a motion to move forward with a “working group” to address river herring and shad incidental catch.  Because any recommendations coming out of such a working group will not have the force of law.  And really, history has shown that councils avoid making hard decisions unless the law requires them to.  With the obvious limitations in funding these days, I can’t help but see such an unfunded mandate in a rather dim light.  But perhaps I’m being too cynical here.  Indeed, this is a good step in the right direction.  Given the fact that the council will regularly review the process, and the fact that this working group has three years to show results before we consider the stocks-in-a-fisheries model again, I think there’s some real motivation for this working group to come up with something tangible.  In particular, I hope it can further develop the catch cap to serve as an enforceable science-based annual catch limit, in the way it would under law.  As the above referenced response notes, the public has to hold the council’s feet to the fire on this one though.  And I suspect they will.  

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