Jennifer Byerly

March 14, 2018

This Fish Geek is Determined to Make All of Us Citizen Scientists

Our Woman Conservationist Wednesday series continues as we nerd out over angler catch data and how it can inform better marine fisheries management with the woman who oversees citizen science programs in the Southeastern states

When I invited Amber to be featured in our series of Q&As with women in conservation, I quickly discovered she and I share another uncommon affinity—a love for large datasets. As part of TRCP’s communications team, I leverage data to learn as much as I can about you, our members, and share content that resonates with you personally. Meanwhile, Amber is working to collect more reliable catch data from anglers to influence how the federal fisheries management agency, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council will manage species in the future.

Here’s how her personal connection to fishing keeps her going in a challenging field and why she is determined to hear about what you’re catching.

TRCP: How did you begin working in fisheries management?

AMBER VON HARTEN: I grew up catching croaker in the Chesapeake Bay area and made up my mind to work in marine science in fifth grade. When you tell people you’ve dreamt of studying ocean sustainability from a young age, most picture you saving sea turtles or something. Well, my first gig was working closely with commercial fishermen within the shrimping industry, and that’s where my love of applied research began.

TRCP: What is the biggest challenge for the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council?

VON HARTEN: We are charged with conserving and managing 73 species of fish, seaweed, lobster, shrimp, and crab within the South Atlantic, from North Carolina all the way down to Key West. It’s a vast amount of habitat to protect, and it’s managed for both commercial and recreational fishing, where it’s hard to find a balance. The way we manage fish has biological, social, and economic impacts on coastal communities. The state of these fisheries directly affects people’s livelihoods, and that’s why the Council has one of the most rigorous processes for federal fisheries management in the world.

 

TRCP: What do you consider to be some of the biggest threats to the species you manage right now?

VON HARTEN: Habitat issues are always a concern. Any loss of habitat affects many species. For example, groupers spawn offshore and their young grow up in our estuaries and bays. With grouper and other species, we’ve seen some moving north and expanding their range with changes in water temperature and availability of habitat—all of a sudden, we have a species that travels out of our jurisdiction, complicating management across agencies. Fish don’t recognize state boundaries, of course and without coordinated management, the shifts in species distribution could upset the regional balance of resources in the process.

TRCP: So, how can better data help lead to better management of fish and habitat?

VON HARTEN: There is no substitute for thorough data collection. The effects of our management decisions are personal and recreational and commercial fishermen tell us all the time that they don’t trust the data that influences management decisions or their seasons.

One of the ways we are trying to think outside the box is to explore the idea of citizen science—having anglers pitch in with data collection through the use of smartphone applications. Scientists can be skeptical of the quality of self-reported data, but if you really look at current data determining fisheries management, much of it is already self-reported.

Citizen science offers a way for fishermen, scientists, and fisheries managers to all work together so that expectations are met about what data is needed for management and everyone has a shared goal in mind for how the data can be used. We hope that our latest programs will supplement existing data and fill in gaps in our current knowledge, like how many fish recreational fishermen are discarding because of their size and or because they’re a prohibited species.

FishRules is an example of an electronic tool for fishermen to engage in federal fisheries — the Council hopes to build similar platforms using the same interface.

 

TRCP: How is this different from what has been done in the past?

VON HARTEN: The use of an app to make it easier—more and more scientific fields are moving towards electronic reporting. There are lots of examples of cooperative research between scientists and fishermen, but often once the research project ends, the data sits on a shelf and isn’t revisited again. The Council’s program is pioneering the use of citizen science to supplement existing data streams using this approach.

 

TRCP: What continues to be your inspiration? What advice would you give other women and girls who want to take up fishing or even break into your line of work?

VON HARTEN: It was my experience fishing as a kid that made me relate to the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay area. These places are special—you can’t deny it after you’ve spent a full-moon tide up on the flats, watching the tails of the drum as they eat fiddler crabs or sight-casting to redfish.

I’d encourage young girls to believe that the sky is the limit and they’re good enough to study what interests them—even if they’re the first to do so. I was lucky to have had that kind of connection to the natural world early on, but it can be fostered at any age. It’s never too late to get your feet wet, ladies. 

 

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Guest blogger Nelli Williams

March 12, 2018

Why We’re Still Not Past Pebble Mine

The most recent attempts to revive the Pebble Mine proposal and roll back sensible limits on mining activity in one of the finest fishing destinations on Earth

Even by Alaskan standards—and we’re lucky to have our pick of remote streams with big and plentiful fish—Bristol Bay is a sporting paradise. It is recognized as one of the finest fishing destinations on Earth, tucked away in an isolated corner of southwest Alaska. The region also produces about half the world’s sockeye salmon, with a record 60 million fish returning last summer to our famed rivers.

There’s no question that Bristol Bay is unique, and yet we continue to have to speak up to make sure it stays that way. Here’s why.

Getting Past Pebble

The now-infamous proposed Pebble Mine would carve out an open pit at the headwaters of the Bay’s two largest rivers, threatening clean water and fish habitat. Somewhere between 1.2 billion and 11 billion tons of mine waste could then remain in the area, forever.

That’s why anglers, recreation businesses, tribes, chefs, commercial fishermen, conservation organizations, and hundreds of thousands of Americans came together to successfully take the proposed mine from a done deal to a less-than-popular project—it has lost three major partners, but the mine’s remaining proponent, Northern Dynasty Minerals, is still looking for new investors.

Jordan Mortimore admires a rainbow trout from the Kukaklek River, Bristol Bay, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Wild Salmon Center.

Together, we’ve successfully created major hurdles for Pebble, and in 2014, there was enough widespread public support to place sensible limits on mining in the region. In 2017, the EPA attempted to roll back limits on mining, but those who recognize the value of Bristol Bay had something to say about it—and the agency listened. The EPA received over one million public comments in response to their attempts to withdraw proposed protections for Bristol Bay, and surprisingly, the agency announced in January 2018 that they would keep these protections on the table.

Though the protections are not final, they haven’t been eliminated, as we feared. Additionally, the Army Corps of Engineers cannot issue a final permit for Pebble Mine while a review of these protections is ongoing. And while the Pebble Partnership has been touting that it has a green light on all fronts to proceed, our decision makers are expressing serious reservations about the possibility that mining in Bristol Bay can happen safely—even in a pro-development political environment. EPA Administrator Pruitt and Governor Walker both made very strong statements on the heels of the announcement to maintain protections.

Why Aren’t We Celebrating?

Though this is a huge victory, Pebble Mine backers are gaining momentum and the fight is far from over. The vigorous support of hunters and anglers has been critical to protecting the bounty of Bristol Bay in the past. But we will to speak up again, as early as this spring.

At the end of 2017, Pebble Limited Partnership applied for the first of many dozens of permits they’ll need, and this kicked off a multi-year NEPA review and Environmental Impact Statement process. Mine opponents will continue to demonstrate at every level that for scientific, economic, and cultural reasons, Pebble should not be granted a permit.

Thousands of salmon converge at the mouth of a tributary stream in Lake Beverly’s Golden Horn, just above Lake Nerka, for the final ascent to their spawning sites. Photo courtesy of Jonny Armstrong and Wild Salmon Center.
What You Can Do

We expect the federal agencies to open a scoping comment period soon, and this is the first major step of the EIS process. Sportsmen and women need to make our voices heard once again during that process. Additionally, Alaskans are advocating for options at the state level that, if enacted, would establish higher hurdles for Pebble to overcome to get approval for its state permits.

As an Alaskan, a mother, and an angler, I’d like to thank the thousands of sportsmen and women from across the country who have already spoken up time and again to tell decision makers at all levels that Pebble Mine is not worth the risk in Bristol Bay. We’ve seen that when enough of us do so, we are heard.

Watch for your next opportunity to take action right here, at standup.tu.org/Save-Bristol-Bay, or on the Save Bristol Bay Facebook page.

 

Nelli Williams is Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Director. She has worked on the effort to safeguard Bristol Bay’s fish, wildlife, communities and jobs for nearly a decade. She lives in Anchorage, Alaska with her husband and two young children – they get out fishing and playing on Alaska’s rivers every chance they get.

Top photo courtesy of Ben Knight and Wild Salmon Center. 

 

Chris Macaluso

March 7, 2018

Finally, Federal Fisheries Management for Us

The Modern Fish Act would allow updated management approaches that acknowledge the difference between recreational and commercial fisheries, and it’s nearing the finish line

Saltwater anglers celebrate this time of year, knowing that the bulk of winter has passed and warmer temperatures, calmer seas, and lines stretched by sportfish of all sorts are likely just a few weeks away.

But the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee recently gave anglers another reason to be optimistic about March’s arrival—last week, they approved the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017, also known as the Modern Fish Act, by a wide margin. A bipartisan contingent of 22 out of the 27 committee members voted to approve the bill and advance it to the Senate floor.

This is great news for America’s anglers, because the bill contains a host of provisions aimed at improving federal management of recreational fishing, specifically by acknowledging in federal law—finally—that recreational and commercial fishing have fundamentally different approaches and management should be “adapted to the characteristics of each sector.”

Modernizing Management for Better Fishing

The Modern Fish Act allows regional fisheries management councils to maintain conservation measures and explore approaches that update management to better serve anglers. This includes strategies that have been very successfully used by state agencies to manage coastal and inland fish species.

The bill also calls for NOAA to work with the National Academies of Sciences to examine and improve data collection programs for recreational fisheries. More state-collected stock assessment and recreational harvest data could be used by federal managers under the Modern Fish Act, as well. More precise harvest data could result in longer, more stable recreational seasons.

Image courtesy of J.B.Pribanic.

Under the bill, NOAA will need to take a hard look at commercial and recreational fishing allocations in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic to determine if current allocations are based in the best available data and meet the economic and cultural needs of the entire fishery—not simply the commercial side. This could mean more fish allocated to recreational or commercial harvest, depending on how conditions have changed, but the updates are critical. Many current allocations are based in information from three decades ago or more and have not been examined with an eye toward meeting both sectors’ needs.

Finally, the Modern Fish Act calls for a thorough examination of the social and economic impacts of implementing additional limited-access privilege programs, also known as individual fishing quota systems, in fisheries shared by commercial and recreational users. While individual fishing quotas have worked well in the Alaskan crab and Pollock fisheries, which are entirely commercial, they aren’t suited for recreational fisheries where the fish must continue to support every American’s opportunity to fish.

Sportsmen would never suggest that private companies and individuals own ducks, deer, or largemouth bass—and private ownership of saltwater sportfish should not be tolerated either.

Widespread Agreement

It is important to note that this bill has garnered broad bipartisan support since being introduced by Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker and Florida Democrat Bill Nelson last July. Twelve co-sponsors have added their names to the bill over the last eight months, split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

Help also came from both Republican and Democratic staff on the committee, who worked extensively with recreational fishing conservation groups over the last year or more to ensure that the bill accomplishes the targeted fixes to federal law that anglers are seeking, while making sure that resource conservation isn’t compromised. “This is the Commerce Committee at its best,” said Wicker after the February 28 committee hearing.

Since the bill was first introduced, the TRCP and a coalition of partner and non-partner groups—including the American Sportfishing Association, Coastal Conservation Association, Center for Sportfishing Policy, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Yamaha Marine Group, and others—have worked tirelessly with staff from Senate offices on both sides of the aisle to address concerns and make reasonable amendments to the bill. Many concessions were made in the last 10 months to bring the Commerce Committee a bill that is a source of pride for Republicans and Democrats, and, more importantly, the sportsmen and women who have always been leaders in resource conservation.

“The Modern Fish Act represents five years’ worth of input from our community and will increase the level of trust between America’s 11 million saltwater anglers and federal fisheries managers,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We’re extremely encouraged to see these updated management approaches tailored to meet the unique needs of recreational fishing, rather than forcing recreational seasons into a management scheme designed for commercial fisheries.”

Photo courtesy of Pete Markham.

Certainly, when congressional staff is helping to write legislation with cooperation from recreational angling conservation groups, and both Republicans and Democrats are willing to compromise to improve legislation, it represents the best of our country’s lawmaking process. Hopefully we can expect to see this level of agreement and cooperation extended to other efforts to improve law and policy.

No Time to Lose

But even a popular bill isn’t necessarily a done deal—there are many demands competing for our lawmakers’ attentions, and we need to continue to engage Senate and House members to move the Modern Fish Act to passage as soon as possible. Saltwater angling and the management of our most important fisheries are closer than ever to getting well-deserved recognition from the federal government.

We can’t let another Congress go by without addressing the very real differences between recreational and commercial fishing—or improving fisheries management to rebuild trust between anglers and federal fisheries managers.

 

 

Kim Jensen

March 5, 2018

A Possible Conservation Funding Fix Makes This State One to Watch

Georgia lawmakers are set to vote on a bill that will help create more funding for conservation, but it could also inspire solutions on the national level

It’s no secret that we’re headed for a conservation funding shortfall in America. Even as sportsmen and women willingly raise our own hunting and fishing license fees, the decline in participation in our sports has real consequences for federal funding models and the state-level agencies that depend on federal dollars to manage wildlife. Federal land managers tasked with maintaining public access and improving habitat could soon see substantial budget cuts, as well.

Many conservation champions are working on new and alternative sources of funding, and some state initiatives may serve as inspiration. In fact, a positive model for the nation is moving through the Georgia state legislature right now.

Where the Outdoors Mean Big Business

Though you may not have experienced its trout streams and pine stands, Georgia is an east-coast sportsmen’s paradise, with opportunities to land brookies or trophy-size largemouth bass in the depths of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest or just a few miles outside downtown Atlanta. In fact, a Georgian is more likely than the average American to be an angler. The state is also home to whitetail deer and some of the best remaining bobwhite quail habitat.

Photo courtesy of Mary Ellen Urbanski/USFWS

Hunting and fishing are not just a way of life here, they’re also an economic engine in the state—more jobs are supported by Georgia’s outdoor recreation businesses than by the state’s powerful automotive industry. And outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing, generates almost four times as much consumer spending in Georgia as in the outdoor mecca of Montana.

But, like the rest of the country, there are costly challenges for the state fish and wildlife managers who are charged with carrying out conservation and supporting the region’s sportsmen and women. Balancing the needs of wildlife with development and restoring waterways polluted by agricultural and stormwater runoff requires reliable funding—something that keeps local conservation agency leaders up at night.

So lawmakers are putting one solution to a vote.

Greenlighting GOSA

The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act (GOSA) is legislation being considered by the Georgia General Assembly that would dedicate a portion of the current sales tax on outdoor recreation equipment to land conservation. Part of the goal of the legislation is to improve water quality, restore wildlife habitat, and increase public access to hunting and fishing. This dedicated source of funding would mean roughly $20 million in additional funding each year would go toward conservation efforts in the state.

The TRCP is supportive of this effort because it will provide stable, long-term funding for conservation in Georgia, ensuring that fish and wildlife habitat is conserved and sportsmen and women have access to quality places to hunt and fish.

Fly fishing in the Chattahoochee River. Photo courtesy of Ken Cook.

GOSA recently passed the Georgia House of Representatives by an overwhelming majority and is now being debated in the State Senate. But lawmakers have less than 10 days to pass the bill before the end of the legislative session on March 29. At that point, the governor would have to sign the bill so it can appear on the Georgia state ballot in November.

Right now, Georgia residents can contact their State Senator and urge them to support GOSA. Similarly, if your State Representative voted to advance the bill, you should reach out to express your thanks. We’ll be watching hopefully from Washington, where GOSA could serve as a model for the rest of the country. Sportsmen and women will need this kind of thoughtful legislating and creative funding to sustain our hunting and fishing traditions for generations to come.

 

Top photo courtesy of Jack Kennard.

Kristyn Brady

February 28, 2018

Modern Fish Act Takes Major Step Toward Becoming Law

Senate commerce committee passes landmark legislation with bipartisan support

Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation overwhelmingly approved S. 1520, the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017, otherwise known as the Modern Fish Act. This legislation calls for critically important updates to the oversight of federal fisheries, including by adding more tools to the management toolbox, improving data collection techniques, and examining some fishery allocations that are based on decades-old decisions.

The Modern Fish Act was introduced in the Senate in July 2017 by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). It has since received strong bipartisan support from 12 cosponsors representing coastal and non-coastal states alike. In addition, a broad coalition of organizations representing the saltwater recreational fishing and boating community has endorsed the Modern Fish Act and highlighted the importance of updating the nation’s fisheries management system to more accurately distinguish between recreational and commercial fishing.

“The bipartisan leadership on display today in the Senate Commerce Committee will not soon be forgotten by America’s 11 million saltwater recreational anglers,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “We want to thank our many champions in Congress, particularly Sens. Wicker and Nelson, for recognizing the need for serious reforms to the broken federal fisheries management system. We look forward to working with congressional leaders in both chambers to get this legislation across the finish line.”

Through years of deliberation, the priorities of the recreational fishing and boating community were identified and presented to federal policy makers by the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management. This group is also referred to as the Morris-Deal Commission, named for co-chairs Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, and Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boat Group. In 2014, the Morris-Deal Commission released “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries,” which included six key policy changes to expand saltwater recreational fishing’s social, economic and conservation benefits to the nation.

Many recommendations from the Morris-Deal Commission are addressed by the legislation passed today.

“Today’s action by the Commerce Committee is further evidence that Congress recognizes the economic and societal impact that recreational saltwater fishing has on our nation,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association. “There are 11 million saltwater anglers in the U.S. who have a $63 billion economic impact annually and generate 440,000 jobs. We applaud the Senate Commerce Committee for taking this important step and call for the full Senate to quickly take action on this legislation.”

“For too long, the federal fisheries management system has limited access for America’s recreational anglers and boaters due to faulty data and misguided regulations, which in turn has jeopardized the economic vitality of the recreational boating industry,” said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “On behalf of the estimated 650,000 workers the recreational boating industry supports, we are eager to continue working with our allies in both chambers of Congress to get this important legislation to the president’s desk.”

“The bipartisan vote taken by the Senate Commerce Committee today demonstrates the nation’s broad support for federal fisheries management reform,” said Patrick Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association. “We are proud to work with Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to advance a common-sense policy that remains true to our conservation goals while promoting access to our nation’s healthy natural resources. We look forward to this important bill receiving quick consideration by the full Senate.”

“We thank Chairman Thune and Sens. Wicker and Nelson, as well as the large bipartisan group of Modern Fish Act cosponsors, for their leadership on this issue,” said Jeff Crane, president of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “The Modern Fish Act is a top priority for saltwater anglers across the United States and charts a clear course for effective recreational fisheries management.  I encourage Congress to use the momentum from today’s Committee vote to secure quick passage in both chambers.”

“The Modern Fish Act represents five years’ worth of input from our community and will increase the level of trust between America’s 11 million saltwater anglers and federal fisheries managers,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Recreational hunters and anglers have been at the forefront of resource conservation in this country for more than a century, and the Modern Fish Act gives recreational anglers an opportunity to continue to lead in conservation by improving upon data collection and stock assessments. We’re extremely encouraged to see these updated management approaches tailored to meet the unique needs of recreational fishing, rather than forcing recreational seasons into a management scheme designed for commercial fisheries.”

“We owe great thanks to Senator Wicker for introducing the Modern Fish Act to finally address the specific needs of recreational anglers under federal law,” said Jim Donofrio, president of the Recreational Fishing Alliance. “We want to thank Chairman John Thune and Ranking Member Bill Nelson for their leadership in bringing this important bill to a vote in the Commerce Committee today. The bipartisan spirit we are witnessing in this Committee is refreshing, and we look forward to final action by the full Senate and House.”

On December 13, 2017, the Modern Fish Act (H.R. 2023) was approved by the House Natural Resources Committee as part of H.R. 200.

Following today’s vote, the coalition encourages Senate leadership to quickly bring S. 1520 to the floor for final passage. Marine recreational anglers and boaters are eager to see this landmark legislation move through the House and Senate and signed into law.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?

The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

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