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November 18, 2019

Bipartisan Effort Drops a Lifeline to Fish Reeled Up from the Deep

Lawmakers team up to conserve reef fish in the Gulf

UPDATE:  U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) introduced a companion bill on November 21, 2019.

A coalition of recreational fishing and boating organizations is lauding the introduction of the DESCEND Act by Congressmen Garret Graves (R-La.) and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) The DESCEND Act of 2019, or the “Direct Enhancement of Snapper Conservation and the Economy through Novel Devices Act of 2019,” would require commercial and recreational fishermen to possess a descending device rigged and ready for use or venting tool when fishing for reef fish in Gulf of Mexico federal waters.

The recreational fishing and boating community has long advocated for the use of descending devices to reduce the mortality rate of prized reef fish such as snapper and grouper. When deep-water fish (more than 30 feet) are brought rapidly to the surface, they experience barotrauma—a condition where a buildup of gas pressure in their bodies makes it difficult or impossible to swim back down. If a fisherman releases the fish due to size, season or bag limit restrictions and the fish does not survive, this is a dead discard or wasted fish.

A descending device is a weighted hook, lip clamp, or box that will hold the fish while it is lowered to a sufficient depth to recover from the effects of barotrauma and release the fish. A venting tool is a sharpened, hollow device capable of penetrating the abdomen of a fish in order to release the excess gas pressure in the body cavity when a fish is retrieved from depth.

Possession of descending devices on board is required in other parts of the country, including several West Coast states and, starting next year pending final regulatory approval, in South Atlantic federal waters. However, similar regulatory action in the Gulf of Mexico has been held up due to concerns that such action would make ineligible an impending $30 million project related to barotrauma reduction, funded through the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration program.

The DESCEND Act would break through this bureaucratic roadblock by both allowing the $30 million project to proceed and requiring possession of descending devices or venting tools.

“Given the economic and cultural importance of fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, we should be doing all we can to ensure the conservation of these fisheries,” said Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “Improving the survival of released fish has long been a sportfishing industry priority. We strongly support the DESCEND Act, and appreciate Reps. Graves and Huffman for their continued leadership on marine conservation policy.”

“The huge economic impact of the Gulf of Mexico reef fish fishery depends on an abundance of fish and fishing opportunities. We commend this bipartisan effort led by Congressmen Graves and Huffman for tackling wanton waste of America’s fishery resources,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “By following simple best practices such as the use of descending devices and venting tools, recreational and commercial fishermen can do a little extra to return alive many more fish to their deep-water homes.”

“Discard mortality and commercial bycatch are significant, hidden drains on our marine resources that must be confronted by all stakeholders and this legislation is a targeted effort that aims to decrease the impact of recreational angling on important species,” said Ted Venker, conservation director for Coastal Conservation Association. “No one likes to throw back a fish, see it float off and know that it’s a wasted fish. Given the availability and effectiveness of descending devices to address one of the main factors impacting the availability of many species, particularly red snapper, this legislation makes sense and hopefully leads to greater awareness of the need to reduce all sources of discard and bycatch mortality.”

“Not only will ensuring that we can return fish to depth and minimize post-release mortality benefit fisheries conservation, it will increase angler access to those fisheries in the long-term,” said Chris Horton, fisheries program director for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “Releasing more fish alive today will translate to more fish and more days on the water tomorrow.”

“Expanding the use of descending devices is sound conservation policy that will help ensure the health of fisheries for generations to come,” said Nicole Vasilaros, senior vice president of government and legal affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “The recreational boating and fishing community thanks Representatives Garret Graves and Jared Huffman for their leadership on this issue and we call on all members of Congress to support the bipartisan DESCEND Act.”

“Recreational anglers are the biggest champions of fish conservation in our country. One of the best ways to ensure survival for reef fish and to enhance conservation and grow the resource is by using descending devices to help fish adjust after being caught in deeper waters and avoid being eaten by predators in the process,” said Chris Macaluso, Center for Marine Fisheries director for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We applaud the authors and co-sponsors of this bill for their continued work with recreational fishermen to improve fishery management and resource conservation.”

 

Top photo by FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute via flickr.

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Kristyn Brady

November 14, 2019

Former Crapo Ag Strategist Joins TRCP as Director of Private Lands Conservation

Capitol Hill veteran will work on farm bill conservation policy, chronic wasting disease, forest management, and other rural land issues

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is proud to welcome Andrew Earl to the staff as director of private lands conservation.

Previously, Earl advised U.S. Senator Mike Crapo on agriculture and natural resource-related issues. With his help over a five-year period, their legislative team succeeded in reforming federal budgeting for wildfire suppression, enacted targeted land management reforms, and led several bipartisan efforts to achieve record appropriations for species and habitat conservation programs.

“Andrew joins us at a critical time, as farm bill conservation programs are being implemented after passage of the new five-year bill and rural America faces new challenges that make these incentives even more relevant to farmers and ranchers who already want to do right by wildlife,” says Whit Fosburgh, the TRCP’s president and CEO. “We’re thrilled to have his expertise and Hill knowledge on the team as we work on chronic wasting disease and forest management, as well.”

Earl is a graduate of the American University School of Public Affairs and a native of upstate New York. Outside the office, he enjoys hiking and camping in the Shenandoah Valley as well as trapshooting, fishing, and cooking.

“TRCP has built a reputation as a purpose-driven organization committed to the type of collaborative policymaking becoming increasingly uncommon in DC,” says Earl. “I could not be more excited to join this dynamic team and work to ensure that the goals of wildlife conservation and sportsmen’s access are accounted for within federal agricultural policy.”

Click here for the full roster of TRCP leadership and staff.

 

Top photo by Larry McGahey via flickr.

Marnee Banks

October 29, 2019

Commission Holds Foreign Company Accountable for Breaking Rules in the Chesapeake Bay

Sporting groups hail decision to preserve striped bass nursery

An interstate commission has responded to the industrial fishing giant Omega Protein’s violation of key menhaden catch limits in the Chesapeake Bay. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Menhaden Management Board unanimously voted this week to find Virginia’s menhaden reduction fishery out of compliance with the regional fishery management plan.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, American Sportfishing Association, and Coastal Conservation Association all objected to Omega Protein’s fishing practices, which intentionally ignored the Commission’s 51,000-MT catch limit in the Chesapeake Bay. Omega previously made a commitment to comply with the limit, but last month announced it would exceed the cap.

“We commend the Board for holding Omega accountable and finding Virginia out of compliance with the management plan,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Association. “We are confident that the Secretary of Commerce will recognize the powerful economics of fishing for all species and not allow a single foreign company to set their own catch limits and jeopardize coastal economies that depend on sportfishing.”

“The Chesapeake Bay Harvest Cap is a wise management solution that conserves menhaden as critical forage for the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem while reducing conflicts between an industrial fishing fleet and the sportfishing community,” said Mike Waine, Atlantic fisheries policy director for the American Sportfishing Association. “Allowing Omega to make its own rules when harvesting America’s natural resources is not in the best interest of the nation’s sportfishing businesses and anglers.”

“It’s significant this was a unanimous vote of all Atlantic coast states to find Omega out of compliance,” said Richen Brame, Atlantic states fisheries director for the Coastal Conservation Association. “The vote included each state’s fishery agency director or their representative, all trained natural resource professionals, and they found Omega had crossed the line. We sincerely hope Secretary Ross agrees and does the right thing—close down menhaden harvest until they come into compliance.”

Research suggests industrial fishing of menhaden could be responsible for as much as a 30-percent decline in striped bass. A study determined the 2016 striped bass fishery generated $7.8 billion toward our nation’s gross domestic product.

The ASMFC Interstate Fisheries Management Program Policy Board and the full Commission will make a final decision on Virginia’s compliance with the Menhaden Management Plan on Thursday. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross will then make a concurrence determination within 30 days. Should the Secretary side with the unanimous decision of the states on the Menhaden Management Board, then the fishery will be shut down until Virginia comes into compliance with the regional fishery management plan.

Omega Protein, a division of Canadian-owned Cooke Inc., is the only reduction fishing operation on the U.S. East coast. The company harvests more than 140,000 metric tons of fish per year, 74 percent of the total coastwide quota.

The full Commission will vote in 2020 on whether to implement an ecosystem-based management plan for menhaden. Learn more here.

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October 23, 2019

Senate Reintroduces Bill that Would Balance Renewable Energy with the Needs of Fish and Wildlife

This win-win legislation would provide funds to conservation projects, states, and counties

The Senate has reintroduced a bipartisan bill that would ensure smart-from-the-start development of renewable energy resources. The Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act would help build an efficient framework for development on public lands and direct royalty funds to fish and wildlife conservation projects in the communities hosting wind and solar development.

A House version of the bill was introduced in July 2019.

Royalties funneled into a newly established conservation fund could be used to restore fish and wildlife habitat affected by development and maintain access to hunting and fishing opportunities on public lands.

Representatives from three major sportsmen’s groups applauded this effort, noting that hunters and anglers are supportive of the development of renewable energy resources on public lands when it is done in the right places and in a manner that conserves fish and wildlife habitat.

“This bill would achieve a rare win-win scenario by thoughtfully balancing renewable energy development and habitat needs, while creating a consistent stream of revenue to fund essential fish and wildlife management projects,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We’re grateful for the support of Senate lawmakers who are prioritizing opportunities to enhance sportsmen’s access, clean water resources, and critical habitat for important game species through this common-sense approach.”

“Our energy future is reliant on the development of renewable energy–that’s not a political statement, it’s simple economics,” says Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “Solar and wind are now more cost-effective than ever before. But even renewable energy has an impact on public land and we must balance renewable development with the protection of fish and wildlife resources. This bill ensures smart development from the start, funding important conservation measures and giving back to the communities who shoulder these projects. TU has supported the concepts contained in this bill for nearly a decade, and we’re grateful to the House and the Senate continuing to pursue its passage.”

“Sportsmen and women are practical about the increasing demands of renewable energy development on our public lands, and we want to avoid impacts to wildlife habitat,” says John Gale, conservation director for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “PLREDA prioritizes development away from wildlife conflicts, proactively mitigates impacts from energy development and creates a royalty structure that will drive new revenue for impacted states and communities while also dedicating a separate conservation funding stream. We thank Sens. McSally and Heinrich for introducing this bipartisan legislation that promotes responsible energy development and safeguards critical fish and wildlife habitat for future generations.”

Kristyn Brady

October 17, 2019

TRCP’s Fosburgh Testifies Before Congress on Ways to Slow the Spread of Chronic Wasting Disease

The coalition-builder’s president and CEO offers solutions that require federal investment in state efforts

Today, the president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership testified in front of the House Natural Resources Committee on ways that Congress can invest in efforts to study, test for, and slow the spread of chronic wasting disease in wild deer and elk herds. CWD is a highly contagious, fatal neurological disease that affects deer, elk, and moose.

Whit Fosburgh offered solutions, including securing bipartisan and bicameral support for the investments in research and testing that have been proposed in two House appropriations bills.

“CWD is one of the greatest threats facing the future of hunting in America,” said Fosburgh. “To its credit, Congress seems to recognize the risk that CWD poses to hunting, agriculture, and even human health—and this subcommittee has certainly stepped up. I encourage you to continue to advocate for the funding levels set in the final version of both the House Interior-Environment and House Agriculture Appropriations bills, because surveillance and testing are key to controlling CWD. By knowing where it is, states can take the management actions necessary to contain the disease.”

CWD deteriorates the animal’s brain over time, resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions, and death. It was first identified in 1967 and remained isolated to a core region between Colorado and Wyoming for decades. But starting in the early 2000s, CWD began to spread rapidly—positive cases have now been confirmed in 26 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces, and wildlife managers are tasked with responding to the epidemic with limited resources.

Deer hunters make up 80 percent of the American hunting public, contribute nearly $40 billion to the U.S. economy, and support wildlife conservation efforts through their purchases of licenses and gear. Currently, testing for the disease is costly and time consuming, and the presence of CWD-positive deer already has some hunters questioning whether their venison is safe to eat. This could mean greater declines in hunting participation and less funding for states that already depend on hunting license and equipment sales for their conservation budgets.

“According to the USFWS, participation in hunting has been declining from about 13 million to 11 million people in the last decade,” Fosburgh testified. “One bright spot in those numbers, has been the growth of the field-to-table movement, or those who hunt to provide lean, organic, locally sourced protein to their family and friends. If people become wary of eating deer and elk, this area of growth in participation could fall away entirely. And conservation will be the biggest loser.”

In June 2019, the House approved a spending bill for federal agriculture, interior, and environmental agencies (H.R. 3305) with amendments that would send $15 million to the states to combat the spread of chronic wasting disease in wild deer and direct $1.72 million to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enhance CWD research and testing methods.

The TRCP has asked sportsmen and women to urge lawmakers to invest in better research and testing for CWD through the annual appropriations process. Learn more about CWD and the hunter’s role in combatting the spread of this disease.

This House subcommittee hearing marks the fourth time this year that the TRCP has represented the interests of American sportsmen and women by delivering official testimony before Congress. View details on our previous testimony related to improving access to public lands, the five priority pieces of legislation that would invest in fish and wildlife habitat, and how to create drought solutions while enhancing conditions for fish in the Colorado River Basin.

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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