Marnee Banks

April 12, 2019

Lawmakers Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Strengthen the Marine Food Web

Forage Fish Conservation Act would improve recreational fishing opportunities

U.S. Representatives Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Brian Mast (R-Fla.) have introduced legislation to promote responsible management of forage fish—the smaller bait fish that larger sportfish rely on for food.

The Forage Fish Conservation Act would address a decline in forage fish populations, strengthen sportfish populations, and support better recreational fishing opportunities. Forage fish populations have been declining due to numerous pressures, including changing ocean conditions, and this legislation takes steps to support a more robust marine food web.

“This legislation uses sound science to preserve our nation’s fishing economy,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Declining populations of forage fish hurt the entire marine ecosystem and sportfishing opportunities. This bill will help prevent overfishing and create sustainable fisheries.  We appreciate Representative Dingell working with a broad coalition to advance conservation efforts across the country.”

The Forage Fish Conservation Act ensures that enough forage fish remain in the water by:

  • Providing a national, science-based definition for forage fish in federal waters.
  • Assessing the impact that a new commercial fishery could have on the marine ecosystem and coastal communities prior to the fishery being authorized.
  • Accounting for predator needs in existing management plans for forage fish.
  • Requiring that managers consider forage fish when establishing research priorities.
  • Ensuring scientific advice sought by fisheries managers includes recommendations for forage fish.
  • Conserving and managing river herring and shad in the ocean.
  • Preserving state management of forage fish within state waters.

The Forage Fish Conservation Act is also co-sponsored by Representatives Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Billy Long (R-Mo.), and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.)

 

Photo by the Chesapeake Bay Program via flickr.

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Charlie Booher

April 8, 2019

What Is Chronic Wasting Disease and How Does it Kill Deer and Elk?

The key to understanding the threat of CWD is learning more about the particles that cause it

My home in Wisconsin is less than 20 miles away from the detection site of the first case of Chronic Wasting Disease east of the Mississippi River in 2002. Michigan State University, where I attend school, is within the same proximity of the first detected case in the state of Michigan. It is safe to say that this disease has been in my backyard for most of my life.

As the disease spreads across the country, more and more hunters are finding CWD in their backyards, too. And while its name is increasingly familiar among sportsmen and women, CWD still remains a source of confusion for many.

Much of this confusion pertains to the small particles that cause it, known as prions. Although we commonly associate transmissible diseases with viruses and bacteria, prions are neither. Nor are they Fungi. They are not even alive.

So just what are these things, how do they spread, and why should we be worried about them?

Prions 101

The term “prion” is derived from “proteinaceous infectious particle,” and it was coined in 1982 by Stanley B. Prusiner of the University Of California San Francisco. In the United States, it is commonly pronounced PREE-on, while in the U.K. it is usually said PRY-on.

In short, prions are malformed proteins. Like other proteins, they are made up of complex chains of amino acids and exist in the membranes of many normal cells. Many forms of prions are not harmful, but certain prions can be highly destructive when they accumulate in the brain or other nervous tissues of an organism.

As prions do not have their own genetic information, they cannot reproduce independently, like bacteria, or through a host cell, like a virus. Prion molecules are dangerous because they “reproduce” by denaturing the normal proteins that are in close proximity to them. This process both facilitates the spread of the disease through the body and can cause the degradation of nervous tissue.

[Jump to: These Changes Are Worth Your Time to Stop the Spread of Chronic Wasting Disease]
Modeled structure of a prion, by Jawahar Swaminathan and MSD staff at the European Bioinformatics Institute
How CWD Kills

Prion-caused diseases, CWD among them, form holes in the brains of affected organisms and are known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies, or TSEs—a very technical name for diseases that affects the brain (Encephalo = brain; pathy = disorder) by causing nervous tissue to become porous (spongiform = sponge-like), and can be spread from one individual to another (transmissible). These neurodegenerative disorders exhibit a comparatively long incubation period, are fatal in all circumstances, and include “Mad Cow” disease in bovid species, scrapie in sheep, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

Because they are not alive, prions cannot be killed. The collection of amino acid molecules comprising a prion must be chemically denatured to lose their detrimental capabilities. As a result, prions are incredibly resilient to change–exposure of up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit will not deform the proteins—and can remain in a given environment for long periods of time.

In a deer infected with the disease, prions may be found in diverse body fluids and tissues, but particularly those relating to the nervous system. Bodily contact, urine, feces, and saliva can all serve as transmission vectors. In addition, a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that prions can also be present in and spread through environmental vectors, including soil columns and waterways.

[Jump to: Experts Respond to Chronic Wasting Disease Skeptics]
Chronic Wasting Disease sample sorting, photo courtesy of USFWS
The Big Picture Threat

It is important to consider the epidemiology of CWD when comparing it to other threats against whitetail herds. Due to the nature of this disease, it can take years of prion buildup for a deer to exhibit symptoms of CWD such as weight loss, stumbling, lethargy, and other neurological conditions, whereas viral diseases like EHD (Epizootic hemorrhagic disease) can be evident after only seven days. This is one reason why hunters do not often find heaps of deer carcasses in the field from CWD, but see mass die-offs from EHD more often. However, this does not mean that CWD is not harmful. In fact, this feature makes CWD more insidious because it is more difficult to detect early infections.

While there has never been a recorded case of cervid-human transmission, the Center for Disease Control advises against eating meat from infected individuals. As early as 1997, the World Health Organization recommended that known agents of prion diseases be kept out of the food chain. Recent research suggests that CWD could be transmissible to primates, but this has only been studied on Cynomolgus Macaques and was a single, limited study.

The nature of this disease, especially the rapid transmission and longevity of prions, makes CWD the biggest threat to herds of whitetail, mule deer, elk, and moose populations. If hunters and conservationists hope to successfully combat this disease, it will be important to support wildlife professionals and scientists in their research efforts to learn more about prions and how to appropriately address their effect.

Take action to support better research and testing for CWD across the country.

 

This was originally posted July 13, 2018 and has been updated. 

Kristyn Brady

March 27, 2019

Recreational Fishing Groups Formally Object to “Sustainable” Stamp on Menhaden Fishery

Mining the base of the food chain is neither sustainable nor economically justifiable

Today, three recreational fishing groups filed a formal objection against the Marine Stewardship Council’s recommendation that Omega Protein should receive a certification of sustainability for its U.S. Atlantic menhaden purse-seining operations. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, American Sportfishing Association, and Coastal Conservation Association signed onto the objection, filed with MSC’s leaders in the United Kingdom.

The industrial harvest of this important forage fish by a single foreign-owned company, Cooke Inc.’s Omega Protein, has a negative impact on striped bass and other sportfish that rely on menhaden for food. Earlier this month, MSC—a private international organization, not a government entity—signaled that it would likely put its stamp of approval on Omega’s menhaden reduction fishing operation, in which the oily baitfish is harvested and reduced into meal, pet food, and other products.

MSC reached this conclusion in spite of the fact that menhaden stocks are less than half of what they would be without industrial harvest, which currently suppresses the striped bass stocks on the East Coast by about 30 percent. Striped bass are the single most valuable marine recreational fishery in the country.

“This certification would put a blue ribbon on the practice of robbing sportfish of their forage base, even as striped bass numbers decline in the Atlantic,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. His organization collaborated with a legal team to object to MSC’s findings and rallied individual anglers to sign an open letter opposing the certification. “We felt it was important to put pressure on MSC, in every venue possible, not to do this. It is irresponsible to call Omega’s operation sustainable when it affects striped bass numbers and the recreational fishing economy.”

MSC’s published assessment indicates that the certification of sustainability would be granted on the condition that Omega reach certain milestones over four years—not because the operation can be considered sustainable now. Sportfishing groups objected to the rationale behind two of these conditions and the MSC’s overall method of assessing the stock’s status.

“The MSC certification undermines ten years of work by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to establish ecosystem reference points for Atlantic menhaden, a process expected to be concluded in the next year,” says Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “For sportfishing businesses on the East Coast, the stakes are very high going into the striped bass season. Menhaden are an important food source for striped bass, and the latest striped bass stock assessment shows a continued decline in spawning stock biomass. This is the worst possible time for MSC to make a misstep like this.”

“In Maryland, anglers are concerned with the health and future outlook for many different recreational fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic coast, and menhaden are a major piece of the ecological foundation and balance in the region,” says David Sikorski, executive director of CCA Maryland. “This is why we anxiously await management options to be unveiled after nearly 20 years of conversation on how to manage these important fish for their role in the ecosystem. It would be negligent for MSC to hand out its certification just as the game is about to change.”

 

Top photo by Stephan Lowy

Kristyn Brady

March 22, 2019

Video: Something’s Fishy With This Announcement About Atlantic Menhaden

When there’s not enough bunker left in the water to support striped bass, can you really call commercial harvest of these forage fish sustainable?

Marnee Banks

March 14, 2019

TRCP’s President and CEO Offers Senators Solutions for Improving Public Land Access

Whit Fosburgh testifies on Capitol Hill about opportunities to support the outdoor recreation economy.

Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, testified on Capitol Hill today to highlight the contributions that hunters and anglers make to the outdoor recreation economy and conservation.

Fosburgh appeared before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to share the perspective of sportsmen and women on habitat and public access.

“The loss of access to the outdoors and public lands has happened over decades, and it won’t turn around without a concentrated effort by Congress and the administration,” said Fosburgh. “Nearby access opportunities disappear when fish and wildlife habitat is lost. But lost access doesn’t always mean a locked gate. When fields in northern Virginia are turned into subdivisions or shopping malls, habitat and access are lost. Access is lost when a South Dakota CRP field is converted to row crops. Access is lost when a waterfowl marsh in Louisiana disappears into the Gulf of Mexico because we’ve built levees along the Mississippi River that starve those wetlands of the sediments they need to survive. In Florida, boat launches sit empty in the face of algal blooms and red tides.”

Fosburgh also noted that demographic changes have had profound effects on access, especially in the West, where 72 percent of hunters depend on public lands for their hunting access.

“For much of the last century, a knock on the door and a friendly smile were often all it took to access or cross private lands in pursuit of fish and game,” said Fosburgh. “But in recent years, many working farms and ranches have changed hands. Some were subdivided, while others became second homes or recreational properties where ‘no trespassing’ signs and locked gates replaced de facto open access.”

Fosburgh called on Congress to take action by:

Fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Congress recently permanently authorized the LWCF, but for years the nation’s best conservation tool has been only funded at about 50 percent.

Directing the Forest Service and BLM to digitize all easements into electronic databases. Right now, neither the Forest Service nor the BLM are equipped to identify where they do or do not hold access across private lands, or where they should prioritize access acquisitions. This is because many of the agencies’ access easement records are still held on paper files at local offices and cannot be integrated into digital mapping systems that are foundational to public lands management in the twenty-first century.

Addressing the maintenance backlog on public lands. The maintenance backlogs are a staggering $11.6 billion for the National Park System; $2.2 billion for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management; and $5 billion for the Forest Service. The backlog manifests itself in degraded roads, trails, and campgrounds, all of which directly relate to quality access.

Including nature-based solutions in an infrastructure package. The upcoming Highway Bill is an opportunity to not only promote recreational access by investing in roads, trails, boat launches, and campgrounds but also by securing resources for migration crossings, aquatic connectivity, and barrier islands to protect coastal communities.

Taking recreational access into consideration in the BLM land disposal process. For the past year, 22 hunting, fishing, and conservation organizations have been encouraging the Department of the Interior to require that public access for outdoor recreation be considered when the BLM evaluates lands for disposal. We request that this change not only be administrative but also codified in statutory law.

Addressing climate change with smart public lands policies. The biggest threat to quality access and the outdoor economy is climate change. Hunters and anglers are on the front lines of our changing climate, with shifting migratory patterns, fishing closures due to heat, low flows, or algae blooms, invasive species, and longer wildfire seasons. Our nation’s public lands, if properly funded and managed, can serve as a bulwark against the worst impacts of climate.

Fosburgh’s entire testimony is available HERE. 

Read about Christy Plumer’s testimony at a House subcommittee hearing, which also took place this week.

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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