Dani Dagan

October 12, 2016

Farm Runoff and Why Sportsmen Should Care About This Sh*t

Does it seem like you’re reading more and more headlines about algal blooms, dead zones, and water crises across our country? Here’s why

Water is always moving. The Lake Erie waters dripping off a just-landed walleye contain billions upon billions of molecules that traveled untold miles over time, picking up all kinds of chemical hitchhikers, which include nutrients—nitrogen and phosphorus—from farm fertilizer. While the word “nutrient” is often associated with positive effects on human health, they can become dangerous pollutants in our watersheds.

On September 22, 2016 the Environmental Protection Agency released a memo renewing a single call to action: reduce nutrient pollution. Why? Because it “remains one of the greatest challenges to our Nation’s water quality and presents a growing threat to public health and local economies.” In other words, nutrient pollution makes our water toxic to drink and costs communities millions of dollars to treat.

Nutrient pollution comes from many sources, including storm runoff from cities, but a lot of it drains into our water via poorly managed agricultural land. Nutrients in fertilizers make farms more productive, but when rain washes over those fields, nutrients can pollute entire watersheds. The Des Moines Water Works lawsuit, which was perhaps the biggest legal action on water quality in decades, specifically addressed pollution caused by nitrogen, one of the major components of fertilizer. The downstream impacts are bad for human health, sportfish, waterfowl, and even your Labrador retriever.

While the nutrients themselves can be toxic, the effects of added nitrogen and phosphorus can ripple out with devastating effects. Nutrient pollution leads to algal blooms, which decimate fish and wildlife populations not only near the agricultural lands where nutrients are sourced, but also downstream at some of the best freshwater fishing, saltwater fishing, and hunting spots—on both private and public lands and waters.

That’s why you, the hunting and angling community, should care deeply about this problem.

What’s Feeding the Beast

Nutrients facilitate algae growth, just like fertilizer on a farm facilitates crop growth, and the algae need little else to survive. While there is typically more than enough light and water to keep algae reproducing, the presence, or lack, of nutrients in water is the limiting factor keeping algae populations in check. Reduce nutrients and growth stops. Add them, and growth explodes uninhibited.

The critters that we love—fish, ducks, and more—thrive in conditions with low levels of algae. When we add fertilizer to the equation, everything gets out of whack, and resulting algal blooms become a big, big problem. Here’s why:

Graphic
How nutrient pollution impacts fish and waterfowl. Up arrows indicate an increase in amount or population, and down arrows indicate a decrease.

 

First, and most simply, some types of algae are toxic if consumed by fish, wildlife, and humans. When these toxic algae bloom, they can create dire scenarios for public health. This has led to states of emergency in cities and towns across the country, including parts of Florida, the Great Lakes, and Utah. In 2014, half a million residents of Toledo, Ohio, were banned from drinking the city’s water, or using it to cook or brush their teeth, for three days. Similarly, algal blooms are also toxic for fish, wildlife, and pets (including your bird dog) and can cause massive die-offs.

Second, algal blooms lead to a depletion of oxygen. As algae dies it decomposes, and the business of decomposition requires a lot of oxygen. All that oxygen consumption leads to hypoxia, the absence of dissolved oxygen in water, which causes sportfish such as trout and salmon to literally suffocate. This is what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay dead zones.

Third, mats of algae block sunlight from entering the water, harming aquatic plants by limiting their ability to convert sunlight into energy. This causes vegetation to disappear from wetland and coastal areas, removing an important food source for fish and waterfowl and a source of oxygen that is urgently needed in water where algae are decomposing.

All of this is to say that when you read or hear about clean water initiatives, you should be as concerned as you would about a threat to your public access, because toxic water means losing opportunities to hunt and fish.

And when you think about conservation, remember that watersheds often start on private lands and that landowner conservation practices—like restoring wetlands, maintaining stream buffers, and planting cover crops—are critical to maintaining healthy fish and wildlife habitat. Visit CRPworks.org to learn about one of the most successful programs for conservation on private lands, and take action to support even better habitat initiatives in the next Farm Bill.

 

5 Responses to “Farm Runoff and Why Sportsmen Should Care About This Sh*t”

  1. Stuyve Pierrepont

    As to Algae Blooms in Brackish / Salt Water, we need to increase the population of filter feeders , Menhaden, to digest these blooms. Algae ( Phytoplankton ) is the key food source of Menhaden. Menhaden have been purse seined to the lowest historical levels in the Chesapeake. They are our natural combatants. We need to bring them back! Fighting run off is key, but we also need to figure out how to increase the natural environments ability to fight back.

  2. john frie

    While there are those concerned about either banning hunting altogether or believing the silly notion that the lead that hunters use in their ammunition is killing wildlife and the people who eat it; They should try and focus more of their attention to an issue like this that’s severely far more reaching into the devastation of wildlife.

  3. That’s all very general but there’s no proposed solution or efforts.
    Shall we plead with our neighbor farmers for only having a 50-ft. wooded buffer strip instead of 100-ft. And if pleading doesn’t work, publicly shame?
    Shall we plead with our governors to purchase a 100-ft. strip along the edges of all farms? Pass a law to prohibit farming within 100-ft of streams and rivers?
    I appreciate that TRCP is not like Sierra Club screaming at their subscribers to make change, but some organized letter campaign, or Potluck with NRCS and hunters, would be better than reciting the problem again without efforts to change.

  4. Tim W. Kizer

    The algae blooms off the coast of Louisiana have been growing every year for a long time now and lots has been done to study and promote awareness on the root cause of its growth–volumes of “N and P” beyond that known to exist organically does it…no question…and it comes mostly from agricultural runoff in the world’s 4th largest watershed. The problem seems to be that the deoxygenation of the water happens slowly (though grossly oversimplified for me, not you) and does not create large flotillas of dead fish and sea life. Simply put, it never presents the dramatic photo-op seemingly necessary to fire folks up. Further complicating the issue is that sportsmen continue to catch loads of specks and redfish despite the large dead zone–and sportsmen don’t complain when they’re killin’ or catchin’. It is conceivable that a combination of existing practices could reduce the source significantly without negatively effecting bottom-line balance sheet issues for farmers—that is, a combination of conservation practices and precision farming. At some point my hope is that a surrogate issue comes along to help solve this problem at it’s upstream source—perhaps downstream communities will take legal action to hold the sources of these runoffs financially responsible for the condition of their water and motivate the ag community to embrace a proactive reduction of these runoffs.

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Steve Kline

October 5, 2016

Until Now, Conservation of Shad and River Herring Has Only Focused On Half Their Habitat

Why anglers support an important step in making conservation efforts whole for this important mid-Atlantic fishery

Each spring, the sportsmen and women of Washington, D.C., head to the Potomac River to shake off the rust of winter and take advantage of the return of the American and Hickory shad. This is a time-honored tradition—George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were shad fishermen—as Americans of all stripes have counted on the return of these fish for thousands of years.

But the shad run, which coincides with the river herring migration, isn’t what it was in the days of the Founding Fathers. Both species of fish spawn in the far reaches of rivers, but spend most of their lives in the open ocean, and are subject to threats and problems in both places. So, any effort to conserve the species and rebuild stocks must combine efforts targeting both their freshwater spawning grounds and their saltwater habitat.

For years, freshwater anglers have supported state-based attempts to address the challenges in rivers and streams: namely poor water quality and fish passages blocked by dams and culverts. Millions of public and private dollars have been spent on fish ladders and stream restoration up and down the rivers of the East Coast, and harvest restrictions have turned a once-important local food supply into an entirely catch-and-release fishery.

But stocks haven’t rebounded. At a time when our waters are literally full of conservation success stories, these highly migratory keystone species have remained stubbornly short of restoration targets. And fishermen and fishery managers are left to scratch their collective heads, wondering when the return on their investments might swing back upstream.

This is because the conservation puzzle for shad and river herring has been missing a glaring piece: the conservation of these stocks in the open ocean.

Generally, shad and river herring are not targeted by commercial fishermen, but they frequently find themselves in commercial nets as untargeted bycatch, mixed in with other saleable bait species, or thrown dead over the side. Without a fisheries management plan that includes shad and river herring, all of this ‘incidental’ take has gone unaccounted for, and no one could really say how many shad and river herring were being harvested as bycatch.

All the money and effort on the state side will continue to be unsuccessful if the fish can just be wantonly harvested on the open ocean.

This week, the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council is meeting in New Jersey to vote on a sensible step forward. By including these fish in a formal Fisheries Management Plan, the council could ensure that conservation efforts cover the shad and river herring’s full range, from the skinny waters of their early spring spawn in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia all the way to the open Atlantic. TRCP is strongly supportive of this overdue action, and we are confident that with this step, the conservation strategy for these historic fish will be made whole.

Kristyn Brady

September 28, 2016

Everglades Restoration Clears House Hurdle

House members vote to send the Water Resources Development Act to conference, meaning anglers are one step closer to better fish habitat in at-risk waters

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA), which matches Senate-passed provisions to jumpstart much-needed restoration of Everglades fisheries and water quality improvements across the country through strategic use of wetlands, reefs, and other natural infrastructure.

The bipartisan bill would authorize $5 billion in water projects overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, including $1.9 billion for the Central Everglades Planning Project, which would fast-track efforts to restore natural water flows, remove pollutants, and reverse algae blooms and other conditions devastating South Florida’s fisheries.

Image courtesy of Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Image courtesy of Fish and Wildlife Commission.

“The sportfishing industry recognizes that it is vital for the Florida Everglades to receive funding as soon as possible to expedite the implementation of multi-year projects that will help fix the water quality and water management challenges that plague south Florida,” says Scott Gudes, vice president of government affairs with the American Sportfishing Association. “These projects have been through an extensive review process and will provide significant environmental benefits by moving more water south from Lake Okeechobee. However, Congressional authorization is required before construction can begin.”

The House bill would also emphasize the use of nature-based infrastructure—like wetlands and dunes Click To Tweet

The House bill would also emphasize the use of nature-based infrastructure—like wetlands, dunes, and reefs—over new man-made structures to reduce flood and storm damage, improve water quality, and protect vital fish and wildlife habitat in the process. This provision, which sportsmen have been calling for since June 2016, was added as an amendment after a strongly bipartisan voice vote.

Similar provisions in the Senate version of WRDA, which passed 95-3 on September 15, would clear a path toward making these conservation measures happen. The two bills will need to be conferenced, with any differences hammered out, before legislation can go to the president’s desk.

“It should be encouraging to sportsmen that Congress is making definitive moves to advance important conservation measures with major impacts for fish, wildlife, and water quality at a time when they are tasked with so much,” says Steve Kline, director of government relations with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “There will be as much, or more, competing for lawmakers’ attention going into a conference on these bills, but there is no time to lose when it comes to reversing destruction in Florida’s fisheries or prioritizing projects that have mutual benefits for habitat and infrastructure.”

Read about the Senate version of WRDA here.

Learn more about the Everglades fisheries crisis here.

Chris Macaluso

September 27, 2016

World-Renowned Angling Destinations Are Literally Sinking into the Gulf of Mexico

Historic flooding in and around Baton Rouge last month was just the latest crisis for coastal towns dealing with the escalating threats of land loss and rising sea-levels

Historic flooding focused the nation’s attention on South Louisiana a little more than a month ago, as more than 100,000 homes and businesses were inundated by as much as 30 inches of rain that fell over a three-day span.

Streets and neighborhoods far removed from boundaries on federal flood maps became angry lakes and frenzied streams. All of that rain ripped and clawed its way into drains, ditches, bayous, and rivers and, when those couldn’t contain the deluge, water rushed back out the through banks of those waterways and into people’s homes.

Flooding in South Louisiana, August 2016. Photo courtesy of Chris Macaluso.

In the weeks since that unprecedented rainfall, some South Louisiana communities that were unaffected by the massive downpour have flooded, as well, though it’s doubtful the rest of the country heard much about it.

Small coastal fishing towns like Cocodrie, Delacroix, Leeville, and Dulac flooded, not because of storms that actually made landfall, but simply because the wind blew hard out of the southeast for a couple of days and a tropical system hit hundreds of miles away.

Flooding that covers roads and docks and water creeping into yards, under homes and camps, has become pretty routine for those who live in those towns or visit local marinas to launch boats in pursuit of speckled trout, redfish, flounder, and bass. It happens every couple of months.

Why So Water-Logged?

The Gulf of Mexico is rising, as is every other sea and ocean. In that respect, the threat of increased flooding is not unique to Louisiana’s coast. But what does separate Louisiana’s coast from that of its neighbors is the constant, menacing subsidence—this means that, for a variety of geological reasons, the land, created by millennia of sediment deposits from the Mississippi River, is slowly but surely sinking into the Gulf. The combination of rising Gulf waters and receding land mass, called relative sea-level rise, means Louisiana’s coastal towns are feeling the impact of higher water sooner and more frequently than other parts of the Gulf region.

This is not breaking news to coastal residents, who have had to elevate homes over the last two decades to keep their feet dry. Scientists and engineers are keenly aware of the threat, and are trying to design and build wetland restoration projects and extensive flood-protection systems to help shield New Orleans, Houma, and other coastal Louisiana cities from hurricane storm surges.

Hopedale, east of New Orleans, flooded as Hurricane Isaac built in the Gulf of Mexico in 2012. Across Louisiana, towns like these flood every few months, as the land sinks centimeter by centimeter each year. Image courtesy of Chris Macaluso.

An Intensifying Threat

It was recently revealed by the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority—staff working on the state’s revised coastal restoration Master Plan, due out in early 2017—that the latest models show relative sea-level rise may claim much larger swaths of what’s left of Louisiana’s coast over the next 50 years than previously predicted. The last time Louisiana’s blueprint of projects to restore critical habitat and protect coastal communities was updated in 2012, coastal engineers, planners, and wetland ecologists predicted that the worst-case scenario for areas south, east, and west of New Orleans was two to four feet of relative sea-level rise.

Now, those models indicate that might be the best-case scenario for those same areas, and as much as six feet or more of average sea-level rise can be expected in the coming 50 years.

That is sobering news for those optimistic about the future of one of the world’s most fertile areas for fish and wildlife, and the communities that provide access for hundreds of thousands of anglers, hunters, and commercial fishermen. If the models are correct, Louisiana towns like Venice and Shell Beach, renowned as world-class angling destinations, may be more submerged than they are dry—or worse, simply uninhabitable, even with elevated homes and businesses.

Levee systems will be pressured more and more as water regularly laps at their bases. The rebuilt marshes that were supposed to provide protection to the levees and help restore the critical nursery grounds for fish and their forage could succumb to more frequent wave action and saltwater intrusion. And rivers, like the ones overwhelmed by the August rains, and even the Mississippi, will increasingly struggle to push their way into coastal lakes, bays, and eventually the Gulf.

Worst-case scenario in 50 years, if no wetland restoration efforts are undertaken: Red areas represent fertile wetlands and communities that could be overtaken by relative sea-level, and green specks are new wetlands created by sediment deposits. Image courtesy of Karim Belhadjali/Louisiana Governor’s Advisory Commission

In the diagrams used by coastal planners to show the expected results of relative sea-level rise (above), red ink means land lost, while green demonstrates where sediment deposits will create new wetlands. Unfortunately, those diagrams look like a Santa Claus suit with a single sprig of mistletoe stuck to it.

But those charged with creating these models are quick to point out that this picture represents a future without action. This is what could happen if we do nothing. The upcoming plan includes projects to create marsh, elevate homes, and protect communities that could put a lot more green on the map.

A $20-Billion Opportunity

The settlement with BP over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster will bring as much as $6.8 billion to Louisiana, and $20 billion in all to the five Gulf States, over the next 15 years. That money will be used to restore and enhance coastal ecosystems and local economies, meaning Louisiana’s coastal planners have their best opportunity yet to take action to address sea-level rise and land loss.

A draft of the 2017 Louisiana Coastal Restoration and Hurricane Master Plan will be released in January of 2017, and the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority will accept public comments when the draft is released. We’ll let hunters and anglers know when they can make their voices heard on this important step in the planning process.

For more information about the master plan and the effort to restore Louisiana’s coast, please visit the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority website.

Kristyn Brady

July 18, 2016

The Fisheries Crisis Just Down the Road from the Largest Sportfishing Trade Show on Earth

While innovation was on display in Orlando, devastation wasn’t far from anyone’s thoughts

Last week’s ICAST show brought more fishing industry brands, buyers, and broadcasters to Orlando than ever before. But in a time of great prosperity for our sports nationwide, there’s a water quality crisis of epic proportions in Florida.

This is why, on day two of our Saltwater Media Summit at ICAST, the TRCP brought together the scientists, researchers, conservation leaders, businesses, and fishermen who are stepping up to figure out what Florida needs to do both short and long term to solve water pollution on the coast lines and restore the Everglades. As our Marine Fisheries Director Chris Macaluso said in welcoming the crowd of over 80 reporters, partners, and interested show attendees, it is an emotional, complex issue, and we all know that we want to do something to protect Florida’s waters wildlife and people. The trick is figuring out how to throw our weight behind the same plan to sway lawmakers and save Florida’s coast and the Everglades.

Costa’s Al Perkinson, vice president of marketing for the influential sunglasses-maker and lifestyle brand, set the stage for the issue by debuting an emotional video about the impact of development on Florida’s fisheries and the Everglades. The centerpiece of Costa’s #fixFlorida campaign, the video is narrated by angler, guide, and TV host Flip Pallot.

Dr. Steven Davis, a wetlands biologist with the Everglades Foundation, led off with a breakdown of exactly what’s causing this crisis. He explained that the areas in and adjacent to the Everglades and Florida Keys generate nearly $2 billion from saltwater angling, but much of that economic activity is being threatened by the mishandling of freshwater from the Lake Okeechobee Basin. Water that once moved south through the Everglades is now being moved via man-made canals and locks to the east, down the St. Lucie River, and to the west through the Caloosahatchee River. This is leading to fish kills, algae blooms, and thousands of lost fishing opportunities on both the west and east coastlines of Florida.

While those brackish and saltwater areas are being inundated with unnatural freshwater flows, Florida Bay, on the southern end of the Everglades, isn’t getting enough freshwater, and unnaturally high salinity levels are killing seagrass beds and other vital habitat while causing additional algae blooms. Poor water management issues are being compounded by the presence of excessive nutrients traced back to aging septic systems and farm runoff from cattle ranches and sugar cane fields.

Without long-term action to address these issues and restore habitat, many of South Florida’s most popular fishing areas face a bleak future. But Davis pointed out that two comprehensive restoration plans do exist: One is incrementally being shepherded by the state and one still requires Congressional approval to get off the ground.

Image courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

“There is a comprehensive plan already under way, with a lot of components closer to completion and others ready to come online soon,” said Kellie Ralston, the Florida fishery policy director for the American Sportfishing Association. “But the plan is looking at 30 years—that’s too long. And the 50-50 split between federal and state agencies tends to slow the process down. We need to fast-track these projects and work collectively as a group. With a conservation plan waiting to be authorized by Congress, that’s something we can focus on.”

And the grassroots support is certainly there—Captains for Clean Water helped introduce the #NowOrNeverglades declaration of support for conservation and funding just a week before ICAST, and Capt. Daniel Andrews says they already have more than 13,000 signers and 200 organizations backing it. “We formed Captains for Clean Water because a lot of people were angry, but didn’t know what they could do,” said Andrews, who also showed a video that the group produced with hook manufacturer Mustad. “I grew up in South Florida, fished Florida Bay and the Caloosahatchee, and I’d seen the destruction firsthand. This is degrading the river that made me want to become a fishing guide. That’s why we want to get companies and individuals together and be part of a solution.”

There’s no research left to be done, added Dr. Aaron Adams, director of science and conservation for the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust. “It’s a statement you’ll rarely hear a scientist make, but we don’t need more data,” said Adams. “When it comes to fixing Florida’s water problem, we have actionable knowledge. It’s a political and economic issue at this point.” He explained that time is of the essence, because a lot of the affected habitat is already at a deficit: 50 percent of the area’s mangroves and 9 million acres of wetlands are already gone. “The assembly line that creates healthy habitat is already weakened,” Adams said, adding that restoration can’t begin until the water quality, flows, and storage issues are addressed. “It’s like giving a lung transplant to someone who refuses to quit smoking. If we’re going to preserve Florida as the sportfishing capital of the world, we need to fix the hydrology, reduce contaminated inputs, and then talk about restoring habitat.”

Here’s what needs to happen now:

  • Plans to restore water flows and improve habitat—known as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project, or CERP—need to be adequately funded and implemented, as promised.
  • The Central Everglades Planning Project needs to be fast-tracked.
  • Conservation dollars approved by Florida voters need to be used to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee, which has already been identified, to create reservoirs for storing and cleaning water.
  • We need to develop comprehensive strategies to reduce the amount of nutrients in the freshwater entering the estuaries—this includes curbing sewerage, septic leakage, and excessive fertilizer use.
  • Natural freshwater flows, taking into account the time of year and how much water is flowing, need to be restored.
  • Marshes must be restored to filter nutrients from the freshwater that is entering estuaries.

With the momentum of ICAST behind us, the TRCP is joining this coalition of engaged and enthusiastic sportsmen working to improve the Lake Okeechobee Basin. We recently hired our first-ever Florida field representative, Ed Tamson, to roll up his sleeves and work alongside the sportfishing partners, conservation leaders, grassroots advocates, and state and federal agencies trying to restore Florida’s fisheries. We welcome our new colleague Ed, and the challenge of collaborating with many different stakeholders to improve the water quality on the east and west coasts of Florida and restore the Everglades to its former glory.

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