Randall Williams

December 19, 2018

U.S. House Passes Modern Fish Act

First-ever sportfishing-focused legislation to pass Congress heads to President’s desk

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed S.1520, the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 (Modern Fish Act). Today’s vote was the final step toward sending the landmark legislation to the President’s desk after it passed the Senate on December 17.

“The Modern Fish Act is the most significant update to America’s saltwater fishing regulations in more than 40 years and the recreational fishing community couldn’t be more excited,” said Johnny Morris, noted conservationist and founder of Bass Pro Shops. “On behalf of America’s 11 million saltwater anglers, we’re grateful to Speaker Ryan, the 115th Congress and all the elected leaders who came together to support and enhance recreational fishing across America.”

The priorities of the recreational fishing and boating community were identified and presented to federal policy makers in 2014 by the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management in a report “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries.” The Commission was known as the Morris-Deal Commission, named for co-chairs Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, and Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boat Group. Four years later, many of the recommendations of the Morris-Deal Commission are found in the Modern Fish Act.

“America’s anglers and members of the recreational fishing and boating industry are among the most responsible stewards of our marine resources because healthy fisheries and the future of recreational fishing go hand-in-hand,” said Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boat Group. “A huge thank you to our congressional leaders who answered the call of the recreational fishing community to improve the way our fisheries are managed.”

America’s 11 million saltwater anglers have a $63 billion economic impact annually and generate 440,000 jobs, including thousands of manufacturing and supply jobs in non-coastal states. Furthermore, $1.3 billion is contributed annually by anglers and boaters through excise taxes and licensing fees, most of which goes toward conservation, boating safety and infrastructure, and habitat restoration.

“It is a historic day for America’s 11 million saltwater anglers thanks Senator Roger Wicker, Congressman Garret Graves and our many champions in Congress who fought until the very end for recreational fishing to be properly recognized in federal law,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “For the first time ever, Congress is sending a sportfishing-focused bill to the President’s desk.”

The Modern Fish Act will provide more stability and better access for anglers by:

  • Providing authority and direction to NOAA Fisheries to apply additional management tools more appropriate for recreational fishing, many of which are successfully implemented by state fisheries agencies (e.g., extraction rates, fishing mortality targets, harvest control rules, or traditional or cultural practices of native communities);
  • Improving recreational harvest data collection by requiring federal managers to explore other data sources that have tremendous potential to improve the accuracy and timeliness of harvest estimates, such as state-driven programs and electronic reporting (e.g., through smartphone apps);
  • Requiring the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct a study on the process of mixed-use fishery allocation review by the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Regional Fishery Management Councils and report findings to Congress within one year of enactment of the Modern Fish Act, and
  • Requiring the National Academies of Sciences to complete a study and provide recommendations within two years of the enactment of the Modern Fish Act on limited access privilege programs (catch shares) including an assessment of the social, economic, and ecological effects of the program, considering each sector of a mixed-use fishery and related businesses, coastal communities, and the environment and an assessment of any impacts to stakeholders in a mixed-use fishery caused by a limited access privilege program. This study excludes the Pacific and North Pacific Regional Fishery Management Councils.

The coalition of groups supporting the Modern Fish Act includes American Sportfishing Association, Center for Sportfishing Policy, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, International Game Fish Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Recreational Fishing Alliance, The Billfish Foundation and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

America’s recreational fishing and boating community applauds Congress for this historic vote and looks forward to final enactment of the Modern Fish Act following the President’s signature.

Photo Credit: Kiran Koduru on Flickr

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Kristyn Brady

December 17, 2018

Senate Passes Modern Fish Act

Sportfishing-focused legislation heads to House for final passage

Today, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 (S.1520), otherwise known as the Modern Fish Act. The legislation, which would make critical updates to the oversight of federal fisheries, marks a big step forward for America’s angling community and now moves to the U.S. House for final passage.

“Today is an important day for America’s 11 million saltwater anglers thanks to the leadership of Senator Roger Wicker and a broad, bipartisan coalition of senators,” says Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “Senate passage of the Modern Fish Act proved today that marine recreational fishing is a nonpartisan issue, and anglers are closer than ever to being properly recognized in federal law.”

The Modern Fish Act, introduced by Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) in July 2017, enjoyed strong support across the aisle from more than a dozen Senate cosponsors representing coastal and non-coastal states alike. In addition, a coalition of organizations representing the saltwater recreational fishing and boating community 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.

“We applaud the U.S. Senate for approving this commonsense legislation, which will modernize our federal fisheries management system and protect recreational angling for generations to come,” says Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “The recreational boating industry – a uniquely American-made industry that contributes $39 billion in annual sales and supports 35,000 businesses – now calls on the U.S. House of Representatives to immediately take up, pass, and send the Modern Fish Act to President Trump’s desk.”

On July 11, 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Modern Fish Act (H.R. 2023) as part of H.R. 200. However, differences between H.R. 200 and S.1520 require that the full House take a vote on S.1520 before it is sent to the President’s desk. America’s recreational fishing and boating community is urging the House to quickly advance the Modern Fish Act to the President’s desk before the conclusion of this Congress.

“The Senate’s passage of the Modern Fish Act demonstrates a clear recognition of the importance of saltwater recreational fishing to the nation,” says Glenn Hughes, president of the American Sportfishing Association. “This version of the Modern Fish Act helps to advance many of the collective priorities of the recreational fishing community for improving federal marine fisheries management. There are 11 million saltwater anglers in the U.S. who have a $63 billion economic impact annually and generate 440,000 jobs.”

If passed, the Modern Fish Act will provide more stability and better access for anglers by:

  • Providing authority and direction to NOAA Fisheries to apply additional management tools more appropriate for recreational fishing, many of which are successfully implemented by state fisheries agencies (e.g., extraction rates, fishing mortality targets, harvest control rules, or traditional or cultural practices of native communities);
  • Improving recreational harvest data collection by requiring federal managers to explore other data sources that have tremendous potential to improve the accuracy and timeliness of harvest estimates, such as state-driven programs and electronic reporting (e.g., through smartphone apps);
  • Requiring the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct a study on the process of mixed-use fishery allocation review by the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Regional Fishery Management Councils and report findings to Congress within one year of enactment of the Modern Fish Act, and
  • Requiring the National Academies of Sciences to complete a study and provide recommendations within two years of the enactment of the Modern Fish Act on limited access privilege programs (catch shares) including an assessment of the social, economic, and ecological effects of the program, considering each sector of a mixed-use fishery and related businesses, coastal communities, and the environment and an assessment of any impacts to stakeholders in a mixed-use fishery caused by a limited access privilege program. This study excludes the Pacific and North Pacific Regional Fishery Management Councils.

“We are proud of the extensive work that went into producing this bill and are grateful to our champions in Congress who worked to establish recreational angling as an important component in the management of our nation’s fisheries, at long last,” says Patrick Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association. “Thanks to this effort, the recreational angling community is better positioned than ever to address ongoing shortcomings in our nation’s fisheries laws and we look forward to continuing this work with our elected officials to ensure the proper conservation of our country’s marine resources and anglers’ access to them.”

“The Modern Fish Act is a very positive step forward for anglers and conservation,” says Whit Fosburgh, president of Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It will improve fisheries data and encourage managers to think about new ways of managing fisheries to benefit both conservation and access.”

In 2014, 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 in a report “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries.” This diverse group made up of a variety of fisheries stakeholders 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. Four years later, many of the recommendations of the Morris-Deal Commission are found in the Modern Fish Act.

“Through the legislative process, the Modern Fish Act has proven to many on Capitol Hill that recreational fishing is worthy of recognition as a driving force for American jobs and the national economy — not just a sport,” says Jim Donofrio, president of the Recreational Fishing Alliance.

The recreational fishing and boating community thanks Senator Wicker for leading the Modern Fish Act through the Senate. While certain provisions of the original legislation proved too difficult to enact now, many core provisions of the Modern Fish Act are found in the final bill. We urge the incoming Congress to continue working to improve the way recreational fisheries are managed at the federal level.

 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

Alex Maggos

December 14, 2018

Finally, a Farm Bill

Now that lawmakers have come to a bipartisan agreement on the nation’s largest source of conservation funding, the future looks brighter for fish and wildlife

Across the nation, private lands provide essential habitat and public access for America’s hunters and anglers, driving a rural outdoor recreation economy worth billions of dollars. And to improve the soil health, water quality, and fish and wildlife habitat on these lands, the farm bill provides more than $5 billion to support private land conservation.

But on September 30 of this year, Congress let the 2014 Farm Bill expire and failed to pass a new bill. While most of the law’s major functions—such as caring for the hungry and providing a safety net for agricultural producers—carried on without issue, its support for wildlife habitat and sporting access immediately halted. For landowners and sportsmen and women across the country, this generated considerable uncertainty regarding the future of private lands conservation.

Thankfully, House and Senate Farm Bill negotiators finally announced a deal, leading to the swift passage of the 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act by both chambers with record bipartisan support.

Here is a look under the hood of the 2018 Farm Bill and what some of its key provisions mean for sportsmen and women.

Conservation Funding

When filling up your gas tank, the amount of money spent determines how much fuel you get and how far you can go. Similarly, the amount of funding for conservation determines how many acres can benefit from the habitat and access programs in the farm bill. That’s why, throughout the course of deliberations and negotiations for the 2018 Farm Bill, TRCP led a determined opposition to any cuts to the programs that support healthy soil, clean water, and productive fish and wildlife habitat.

We are pleased to see that the final bill provides full funding—roughly $5 billion—for the critical work of conservation.

Agriculture Conservation Easement Program

Funding for this substantial wetlands program saw an increase of $200 million per year, meaning that roughly $450 million in funding will assist landowners with the protection, restoration and improvement of wetland easements. This natural infrastructure enhances fish and migratory bird habitat while mitigating flooding and boosting water quality by capturing arm runoff.

Conservation Compliance and Sodsaver

The 2018 Farm Bill maintains the integrity of wetland conservation compliance, known as “Swampbuster,” while strengthening “Sodsaver” grasslands protections. Combined, Swampbuster and Sodsaver provide critical safeguards for the wetlands and grasslands that comprise a significant amount of our waterfowl and upland bird habitat in the United States.

Conservation Reserve Program

CRP acreage grew by 3 million to a total of 27 million acres under this voluntary program, which incentivizes landowners to remove highly erodible and environmentally sensitive lands from production. This increase will provide much-needed upland habitat and water quality improvements.

Environmental Quality Incentives Program

The bill boosts the funds dedicated to wildlife habitat practices under EQIP from 5 percent to  10 percent of the program’s total funds. This will dramatically increase the amount of money available for farmers and ranchers to create wildlife habitat on working lands for species such as the greater sage grouse and monarch butterfly.

Regional Conservation Partnership Program

Funding for the RCPP tripled to $300 million a year to be spent on landscape scale watershed projects that increase wildlife habitat while boosting water quantity and quality. This program is used everywhere from the Chesapeake Bay to the Columbia River to build resiliency in the face of pollution and drought.

Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program

The 2018 Farm Bill provides an additional $10 million in funding for the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program. This is a significant victory for sportsmen and women across the country who enjoy public access to nearly 1 million acres of private land opened under this program for everything from hiking to hunting and fishing.

Praise for the Farm Bill

“We’re relieved to see a Farm Bill move forward before this Congress concludes, because every day we go without critical programs for habitat and access it creates more uncertainty for rural America. With full funding for conservation and increased funding for states to create new walk-in access for hunting and fishing, this bill is a win all around—for sportsmen and women, landowners, wildlife, water quality, and our economy.”
— Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

“The Farm Bill is one of the largest single sources of conservation spending in the federal budget and it represents the single largest federal investment in private-lands conservation, so it is easy to see why it is so important.”
—Paul Phillips, co-chairman of the Boone & Crockett Club’s Conservation Policy Committee

“In short, the new Farm Bill is a victory for the conservation and stewardship of the natural treasures that are America’s ranches, farms and forests. The health of these lands is critical to the success of private landowners, to our economy and to rural communities. The bill’s investment in conservation programs, combined with important forestry provisions, will give landowners tools to protect their land and their way of life.”
—Mark R. Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy

“This is the first time CRP acres have increased since the 1996 Farm Bill. Part of that is due to the support of our 140,000 members, volunteers, hunters, farmers and landowners making their voices heard in support of a strengthened CRP.”
—Dave Nomsen, vice president of governmental affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever

“On behalf of the more than one million members and supporters of Ducks Unlimited, we’d like to thank Congress for their steadfast support of our nation’s wetlands and waterfowl through the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. By providing full-funding for the conservation title, Congress ensures that these voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs will continue to create opportunities to work with farmers, ranchers, and landowners across the country. Without their cooperation, Ducks Unlimited could not reach our goal of filling the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow, and forever.”
—Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited

Top photo by Nicholas Putz

How Fishing Guides Accelerated Everglades Restoration Efforts

As fishing guides, charter captains, and other small business owners share their stories, decision-makers get inspired to make conservation happen in South Florida

From the top of a poling platform in the Florida Keys, a fishing guide scans the flats for a slender outline or a silver flash, whispering instructions to an angler at the bow. “There’s one at ten o’clock. Drop it right in front him. Strip… faster, now…” The more precise the directions, the greater the chance of hooking into the targeted fish. Patience and perseverance are critical, especially when almost every element is outside of your control.

In a moment of such pure concentration, politics should be the furthest thing from the mind of a guide. The unfortunate reality, however, is that our unique experiences on the water—not to mention the livelihoods of countless outdoor recreation business owners in south Florida—are directly affected by decisions made every day in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C.

So, these days, the captain who guides you to bucket-list bonefish and tarpon is more likely to be tuned into, and willing to speak out about, the policy decisions that could threaten the future of recreational fishing here in the Everglades.

And it’s paying off for conservation.

Gathering the Guides

For decades now, water quality across Florida’s southern peninsula has declined, causing massive seagrass die-offs and toxic algal blooms. The consequences of this trend are dire: The state’s fishing, boating, real estate, and tourism industries, as well as the health of its residents, all depend on the quality of its water.

Citizen engagement on this issue had been lacking, and politicians at the state and federal level let opportunities to fix these problems slip away. This water crisis could have been fixed years ago with greater awareness of the problem and available solutions.

This realization, combined with the tangible economic impacts to charter fishing businesses, inspired guides like Captains Daniel Andrews and Chris Wittman to take leave of their skiffs and spend their time educating others about Florida’s water mismanagement issues and possible solutions. In 2016, they founded Captains for Clean Water, a non-profit that advocates for clean water and healthy estuaries.

They had no idea that they would be rallying the outdoor industry to the front lines of a decades-old fight.

Map courtesy of Everglades Foundation.
Action for the Everglades

Fast-forward to May 2018, when hundreds of anglers, business owners, and conservationists traveled to Washington, D.C., for the America’s Everglades Summit, a two-day event hosted by the Everglades Foundation. There, they took to the halls of the Capitol to make their voices heard.

“Our sense of urgency and the passion we share for this place, can only be felt in person,” says Captain Benny Blanco. “That’s why I made it a priority to show up and do whatever I could to convince decision-makers. My livelihood and the livelihoods of every South Florida guide hang in the balance. I think they can hear that in my voice.”

The group’s first request for Congress was to authorize the Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir in the 2018 Water Resources Development Act. This project will significantly reduce toxic discharges to Florida’s coasts and restore the flow of clean water to the Everglades, where it is needed.

Since then, the collective efforts of organizations like the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Captains for Clean Water have helped to bring anglers together and push lawmakers to pass WRDA with critical support for the Everglades. This is strong evidence that when our community unites, we win.

“Having the ability to move forward on the reservoir south of the lake means that we are one step closer to saving Florida Bay and the northern estuaries,” says Captain Josh Greer, a southwest Florida business owner and fishing guide, who encourages his customers to keep up the pressure on lawmakers. “If we can do that, guides like me can continue to make a living on the water. We need everyone to continue making noise and pushing the state and federal government for funding before we lose the Everglades for good.”

The Next Chapter

The effort to restore the Everglades is far from over, and attention now turns to providing federal funding for the EAA Reservoir. In 2019, Captains for Clean Water pledges to lead this charge, rallying supporters and working with elected officials to solve this critical issue.

With so much at stake, the time to act for Florida’s water quality and outdoor economy is now.

“Restoring flows to Florida Bay has never been more crucial,” says Blanco, “but we’ve never had more evidence that the voices of recreational fishermen can make an impact.”

 

Learn more and get involved at captainsforcleanwater.org.

 

Alycia Downs is the communications associate for Captains for Clean Water, a non-profit advocating for clean water and healthy estuaries. As an avid sportswoman, writer, and Southwest Florida native, she creates content for numerous organizations promoting tourism, conservation, fishing, and outdoor involvement. Downs can be found casting lines along the Gulf Coast, where she lives with her husband Mike. For more outdoor inspiration and to get in touch, visit tideandtale.com or follow her on Instagram @tideandtale.

 

Top photo by Dusan Smetana

Kristyn Brady

December 11, 2018

New EPA Rule for Clean Water Protections Would Threaten Fish and Waterfowl

The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers proceeds with rolling back Clean Water Act protections for headwater streams and wetlands—harming trout, waterfowl, and outdoor recreation businesses

Today, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers took the next step to replace an Obama-era rule that benefited headwater streams and wetlands across the country. The new rule would redefine which waters are eligible for Clean Water Act protections and leave important habitat for fish and waterfowl vulnerable to pollution and destruction.

The rule proposed today would remove Clean Water Act protections for ephemeral streams, which only flow in response to rainfall, and likely excludes intermittent streams, which only flow during wet seasons. These waters are important for fish and wildlife, especially in the West.

Under the new rule, adjacent wetlands will only receive protection if they are physically connected to other jurisdictional waters. This disregards the EPA’s own research that shows wetlands and ephemeral and intermittent streams, even those that lack surface connection, provide important biological and chemical functions that affect downstream waters.

“No matter which party holds the power in Washington, the needs of America’s hunters and anglers have not changed since we supported the 2015 Clean Water Rule—all streams and wetlands are crucial to supporting healthy fish and waterfowl populations that power our sports, and an entire swath of these important habitats does not deserve to be overlooked or written off on a technicality,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sportsmen and women will remain engaged in the public process of creating a new rule for how our smaller streams and wetlands are regulated, because our quintessentially American traditions in the outdoors depend on it.”

“The agencies’ refusal to consider the science is detrimental to the integrity and security of our fish and wildlife resources,” says Doug Austen, executive director of the American Fisheries Society. “Headwater streams are key to the sustainability of fish stocks in both upstream and downstream waters. Now, species that are already in trouble will be harder to recover, and more species will be at risk of becoming imperiled. Loss of protections for these waters will have grave ecological consequences for fish and fisheries—and ultimately the communities across the U.S. will lose the economic, social, and cultural benefits that are derived from headwater streams.”

“This proposal is fundamentally flawed for one simple reason: It focuses on the wrong criteria—continuous flow of water—rather than protecting water quality in our rivers, lakes, and drinking water reservoirs,” says Scott Kovarovics, executive director of the Izaak Walton League of America. “This misguided approach is completely unsupported by science and common sense, and it not only jeopardizes public health, it will undermine the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy.”

The Obama administration finalized its Clean Water Rule in 2015 and clarified that the Clean Water Act protects smaller streams and wetlands. The Trump administration’s rule embraces the minority opinion written by late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on what constitutes the “Waters of the U.S.”

Scalia’s definition was not adopted by the Supreme Court and is not supported by hunters and anglers. In fact, 80 percent of sportsmen and women in a 2018 poll said Clean Water Act protections should apply to headwater streams and wetlands. Additionally, 92 percent believe that we should strengthen or maintain current clean water standards, not relax them.

“The administration’s new proposal turns its back on the importance of small headwater streams to healthy waterways and sportfishing recreation,” says Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “Small headwater streams are like the roots of our trees, the capillaries of our arteries. Sportsmen and women know that all the benefits of our larger streams, rivers, and bays downstream are dependent on the health of our small streams.”

Today’s proposed rulemaking would roll back protections on diverse wetland habitats, including prairie potholes in the Great Plains region. Also known as America’s duck factory, these wetlands support more than 50 percent of our country’s migratory waterfowl. Since the Supreme Court created confusion about the application of the Clean Water Act in the 2000s, America has experienced accelerated wetlands loss—only 40 to 50 percent of the original prairie potholes remain.

“From wetlands in the prairie potholes region to the riparian areas that are critical to 80 percent of all wildlife—including big game—our hunting and fishing traditions can’t exist without clean water,” says Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “Hunters and anglers will not stand for shortsighted policies that weaken protections and threaten the integrity of fish and wildlife habitats currently safeguarded by bedrock conservation laws like the Clean Water Act.”

The new rulemaking could also threaten America’s outdoor recreation businesses and communities that rely on tourism spending related to hunting and fishing.

“No one who loves the outdoors wants to fish a lake covered in toxic algae, duck hunt near a bulldozed wetland, or pitch a tent next to sewage ditch,” says Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “Yet more water pollution is exactly what will happen if the administration dismantles clean water protections. It’s bad for wildlife, and it’s bad for the nearly 8 million jobs powered by the outdoor recreation economy.”

Today’s proposal will be published in the Federal Register here. At that time, the public will have 60 days to comment.

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.

Learn More
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