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October 2, 2013

A Warning to Climate Deniers…

A tip from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Marshall:

As participants in the ecosystem rather than armchair observers, sportsmen have been among the first groups in America to conclude from first-hand observations that climate change is real – and poses a very real threat.

Armed with these conclusions, sportsmen gave birth to groups and efforts such as Seasons’ End and Conservation Hawks. Of course, that doesn’t mean sportsmen don’t meet skeptics and deniers at the deer camp or in the duck marsh.

Luckily, NASA has provided a handy, one-page-does-it-all reply for those who think it’s all a hoax. It’s filled with actual measurements – not theories –  of what’s been happening to air and water temperatures, sea levels, ice sheets and carbon concentration over many decades. It will be hard for deniers to deny these evidence-based trends.

Warning to warming deniers: The following page is filled with actual measurements, not theories, about changing climate.

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September 30, 2013

The Feds Map Where U.S. Water Goes … and It’s Fascinating

The National Atlas of the United States is a periodic publication of a federal partnership led by the U.S. Geological Survey. It contains a wealth of data and maps to “capture and depict the patterns, conditions, and trends of American life.” Earlier this summer, this partnership released a tool that may change the way you think about the movement of water in America.

Streamer is an interactive mapping tool that lets you follow any major river or stream in America upstream to its headwaters or downstream to the ocean. With it you can see, starting from any point in America, where the water in your stream is coming from and going to. It’s like a Google map for rivers.

Take, for example, the Mississippi River. By clicking on the mouth of the Mississippi River where it reaches the Gulf of Mexico, you can get a map, like the one below, that shows every stream and river that drains into the Mississippi River. If you’re one of the 85 million people living in this area that touches 31 states, you live in one of the top five largest draining basins in the world, covering about one-third of the U.S. land mass.

StreamerWith maps like this, you can start to appreciate the interconnectedness of water. You can see that what happens to water in western Pennsylvania or eastern Colorado matters to what the water will be like in Louisiana. Keep this map in mind during upcoming debates about the Clean Water Act. Water doesn’t care about state boundaries. It simply flows inexorably, inevitably downhill. Therefore, sportsmen and women need effective federal protections to safeguard the fish, wildlife and habitat that sustain our proud sporting traditions.

This map also shows that what gets put into the water upstream in South Dakota eventually makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico.

That’s why the TRCP launched the Barnyard to Boatyard Conservation Exchange. In it, we brought South Dakota farmers and ranchers together with Louisiana Gulf fishermen to see firsthand the challenges each faces making a living on the Mississippi River that connects them – and to seek solutions to conserve America’s great native prairies and coastal waters.

Currently, pollution in the Mississippi River – large amounts of it coming from farming and ranching activities in the upper reaches of the river – enters the Gulf, killing aquatic life in an area the size of Connecticut. There have been positive developments. Minnesota just proposed a plan to reduce its pollution contribution by 20-35 percent. But there’s still a long way to go to protect this resource and preserve the recreational fishing and agricultural economies at either end of the river.

In the meantime, go play around with Streamer and see where your favorite stream leads.

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September 27, 2013

CCA MC Has It Right on Stripers

Photo courtesy of John McMurray

I’m in Montauk this week and next.  So being that I’ll be writing blogs in-between 8-plus-hour stints of chasing unusually sparse pods of albies and stripers, expect uncharacteristically brief pieces for these two weeks (unfortunately, as regular readers of this column have likely noticed, I don’t really have the gift of saying something meaningful in under 1000 words).

But, here goes…  Earlier this week, Tony Friedrich, CCA MD’s Executive Director, sent me their comments on the 2012 Benchmark Striped Bass Stock Assessment.  Yes, the benchmark was released a few weeks ago, but I’ve avoided writing about it because the 2012 numbers still need to be added (presumably that will happen in Oct), and because, well, I’ve been too darn busy fishing to read and digest the whole thing.  But getting back on point, Tony forced me to give it a look this week.   I think CCA MD pretty much has it right.  CCA MD Comments on 2013 Striped Bass Stock Assessment.

I will note here that it’s good to see that at least one CCA state still believes in one of the founding principles of that organization…  That is, the needs of the fish must come before the needs of any user group (I’m paraphrasing of course).  That doesn’t appear to apply to any of the CCA chapters down south right now, but that’s an entirely different blog.  I suspect this is an indication that the Mid Atlantic and New England CCA states will take a solid conservation position on striped bass.  Indeed that’s a good thing.

As I understand it, the old striped bass stock assessment was kind of a mishmash.  In assessing the appropriate fishing mortality and spawning stock biomass levels, it averaged out two “Ricker models” and two “statistical catch-at-age models”, and it came to a conclusion that was neither fish nor fowl (all pun intended).  The Ricker model for striped bass probably wasn’t appropriate in the first place.  I’m told that such models are generally used for species such as salmon, where overcrowding in limited nursery habitat actually reduces recruitment (not the case with a species like striped bass where there appears to be plenty of spawning habitat), and where a reduction in the population, within reason, leads to higher recruitment.  The Ricker Model is one of those things that gets hauled out every time someone wants to kill more fish (e.g. RFA was pushing it for fluke back around 2004 or 2005).Getting back to the stock assessment itself, as expected, it shows that stripers are not overfished, and overfishing still isn’t occurring.  Before you throw your hands up, let me explain.  This does not necessarily mean more of the same.  Clearly the stock is in trouble, and there is some acknowledgement of that in the assessment itself.  And I think even those managers prone to avoid any tough decisions are beginning to see the writing on the wall.

The new assessment is strictly “statistical catch-at-age”, and comes to the conclusion that you’d expect once the less appropriate model is off the table.  That is, the fishing mortality reference points are too high. The stock assessment concluded that we need to reduce fishing mortality pretty significantly if we are to avoid big problems in the future.  As mentioned, the final 2012 numbers will be added to the assessment at the October ASMFC meeting.  Until then, it is difficult to put a number on the percentage of reduction recommended.  But it will probably somewhere around 40 or 50%.  Which is entirely reasonable, and a worthwhile sacrifice if it will stop the decline and get the stock back to abundant levels.

Without any change in fishing mortality, overfishing is a virtual certainty in 2014, and there is an increased chance of an overfished stock by 2015/2016, although that begins to decline thereafter when that anomalous strong 2011 year class (amongst 8 years of average to below-average year classes) begins to recruit into the fishery.  That’s of course assuming that a significant number of 2011 fish do indeed recruit into the fishery.   Given the lack of much before or behind them, and the pressure they will likely face, I have my doubts.

As the CCA comments point out, there’s no doubt that reductions are needed.  Where the real doubt lies is whether ASMFC has sufficient guts or integrity to make such real and likely painful reductions.  If I had to make a guess, given the rumblings I’ve heard, I’d have to say that ASMFC will approve some sort of reduction in fishing mortality.  Yet, given the management body’s reluctance to make the real hard choices, and its constant proclivity to “meet half-way” (e.g. invoking half-measures), I’m not confident it will be the 50% reduction in F we really need.  Yet, as mentioned in other blogs.  I’m perpetually cynical, which is likely the result of being around this stuff too long.

Now might be a good time to contact your commissioners and ask them to reduce fishing mortality significantly, and to do it now!  So that we can stop what is so obviously a decline in what has become perhaps the most important fish to the Mid-Atlantic and New England recreational fishing community. Here’s the link to your Commissioner’s contact info:  ASMFC Commissioners.

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The F-word Again

Signing the reauthorization of the Magnusson Stevens Act in 2006 — Compliments of NatGeo

 

The penalty for using the F-word when growing up was worse than having to wash one’s mouth out with soap. It usually meant getting grounded for some period of time and that meant no fishing expeditions to local ponds and rivers. These trips were executed on bicycles outfitted with rod holders and tackle box containers. In those days, most did not get cars until well past the driver license age. Losing fishing privileges was a big penalty.

Today’s F-word and fisheries are far different. Some think that not believing in the F-word as it applies to fisheries should get a punishment far worse than oral soap or getting grounded. They think that if one is not for the F-word, then one is against recreational fishing and the industry it supports.

What is today’s F-word? Well, it is “flexibility” and seems to be the central concept being pushed for the current Re-authorization of the Magnusson Stevens Act (MSA), also know as the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA), so named after its re-authorization in 2006. I am hoping that this reauthorization does not become the “Flexible Fisheries Act.”

What’s the problem with making fisheries more flexible to help accommodate the needs of the resource users. Nothing really. But do we need to make a change to do that? A lot of folks do not think so.

Last week, one of my fellow bloggers, Capt. John McMurray, wrote a good piece on the current efforts to Re-authorize the MSA/SFA, whichever you’d like to call it. He gave a good look at all the major issues. If you want a refresher give it a read. I am going to focus in on one issue that continues to give me heartburn. This issue is also getting some traction after a recent report was released by the National Research Council, which is an arm of the US National Academy of Sciences. Several former members of Congress requested the report. I cannot criticize the report as I have felt that the arbitrary re-building timeline mandated in MSA was just that. Arbitrary. But the mandated timeline does hold managers feet to the fire as well as tying their hands on some species.

The report does say that the existing law works. It noted that a good percentage of the stocks examined were now rebuilt or rebuilding. This is all good news. What the report points out is that current science capability is not good enough to precisely manage to a specified biomass level. Given that constraining element, they suggested that managing to a mortality level rather than an arbitrary timeline “might” be a better way to go. Note they said “might” not “would be.” From a managers standpoint, managing to a mortality level is very attractive because it is fairly straight forward. Set it and forget it!

In a discussion with John Pappalardo, CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fisherman’s Alliance, he made a very good observation about this report. “This report is an intellectual debate that will unfortunately be used to inform a policy decision.” Spot on.

With some of the problematic stocks, the allowed mortality (landings + discards + natural mortality) would be set at a low level with no rebuilding timeline. That may work for the commercial industry as it avoids the huge swings in quota currently being experienced and gives some level of stability. I doubt that it will be much help to the struggling groundfish industry in New England.

However, my strong sense is that this type of management strategy will absolutely cream the recreational users that share resources with the commercial users. What drives the recreational industry? Fishing trips. What drives fishing trips? Abundance of fish. This has been proven time and again. People want to catch fish and since recreational users have the least efficient gear, they need lots of fish. Keeping them at low levels until the stars align to cause a lot of high recruitment events will not help the recreational industry. I think that a lot of the push from the recreational industry for the F-word is due to one or two specific fisheries. Ya, ya, red snapper is one. There may be other ways to address these specific fisheries and it appears that the Gulf is working on one.

I do not think that there needs to be a complete remake of MSA to solve some specific issues. Rick Methot, Chief assessment Scientist for NOAA Fisheries supported that idea, “the agency is investigating how it can revise its national management guidelines to provide more flexibility, while still preventing overfishing and rebuilding fish stocks. We are interested in finding the right balance of flexibility and firmness.”

If there are ways to improve MSA that make the managers jobs simpler and more effective, I am all for it. However, allowing stocks to remain at low levels for prolonged periods will do nothing to rebuild and sustain the recreational fishing industry. I’m pretty sure of that.

 

For More Information

  1. The Bottom Line
  2. Report shows gains in many fish stocks

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Tegan’s Trout

The fish pulls; she swings the pole back, lifting the line out of the water, the fish flops on the bank.  Excited at the catch, she smiles and releases the trout.  Moments such as this last a lifetime for a child.

For many of us, these childhood memories are enough to get us hooked on fishing for the long haul. But these days we are seeing fewer children spending time outdoors; we need to get our kids playing again.

The future of our fish and wildlife depends on teaching our children how to respect the resources. Passion for a sport starts with the parents and if we don’t encourage our children to fish or pursue outdoor activities then we lose the next generation of conservationists.

When kids play outside, they connect with the resources and develop an appreciation for the environment – something that is often lost on children who never get out of the house.

Take an opportunity this Saturday, Sept. 28, on National Public Lands Day and National Hunting and Fishing Day, to introduce a newcomer to our rich outdoor traditions.

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As our nation rebounds from the COVID pandemic, policymakers are considering significant investments in infrastructure. Hunters and anglers see this as an opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations.

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