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posted in: General

November 14, 2013

ON RIVER HERRING AND SHAD, IT’S TIME TO MOVE ON

Fighting a shad — Photo courtesy of fishwithmj.com

Past votes won’t assure the river herring’s future

Yes, in my last blog, I said that this week I’d address some of the misconceptions on slot limits and gamefish for striped bass.  That’s not gonna happen, for a few of reasons.  One is that, well, I’ve already done it in a prior blog, although apparently not thoroughly enough.  So, I will indeed address this in the future… when it’s more appropriate.  As I mentioned in my last blog ASMFC Moves on Striped Bass, in February the board will consider an addendum that would simply seek to reduce fishing mortality (adoption of the new, more conservative fishing mortality reference points).  In May, a second addendum that would cover what regulations would get us to such a reduction will be considered.  Given the latter is when the slot-limit discussion will likely take place, it’s probably more appropriate to wait until then to cover it here.   Lastly, I’m not sure how I can justify writing for four consecutive weeks on striped bass without this becoming the John McMurray striped bass blog.  There are indeed other issues out there.  And this week I’m gonna cover a big one:  uhm, striper forage.  Okay, so this is related to striped bass, but there’s a much broader picture here. 

Before moving forward, in case you didn’t read it, here is my blog on the last Mid Atlantic Council meeting (River Herring and Shad Lose at the Mid ) where we considered adding river herring and shad to our federally managed stocks.  Perhaps more importantly here’s a darn good response to a post on Talkingfish.org written by a colleague and “recreational” council member. (note: scroll down to the end of the article to see the comment:  To My Fellow Recreational Fishermen).  I can’t say I disagree with some of what’s said there.  It’s true that “Recreational fishermen are appointed to bring the perspective and experience of a recreational fisherman to the council and to insure that the interests of recreational fishermen are addressed,” that fishery resources “belong to every American” and that “Council members are sworn to protect the resource first with the interests of all of those that benefit from the resource being the very next priority.”  It is also true that “We are to weigh all of the information and base our actions on what we believe to be the most reliable of that information” and that “a member has to respect each group’s concerns and try to formulate plans that work for everyone.”  And I agree with the statements about moving on and holding the council’s feet to the fire.   

Those are all good points.  Yet, the response missed the most important point of all:  As council members we have an overarching obligation to uphold the law – in this case the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act – which clearly stipulates that we make decisions that provide for the greatest good of the nation. 

It is pretty darn clear at this point that large numbers of river herring and shad are being caught in federal waters, and that such fish are badly in need of conservation and management, and if that’s the case, it looks like the law requires that we manage them under a federal Fishery Management Plan (FMP).  Given all the data on the species, it’s difficult for anyone to credibly argue river herring and shad aren’t in a bad place.  Sure, there may be some isolated recovering runs in northern New England, but they are the exception to the coast-wide trend.  These species are unquestionably depleted and are caught and actually sold in large numbers so they are most certainly “in the fishery.”  And while they are already being managed in state waters by ASMFC, these fish do spend most of their lives at sea, they are being taken incidentally at sea and they need to be managed at sea; in fact, Magnuson-Stevens seems to require that they be managed at sea.  Yes, both New England and the Mid Atlantic Councils have implemented “catch caps” which would shut down the sea herring and mackerel fisheries if river herring or shad catch met or exceeded certain poundage limits, but without 100% observer coverage (or something close to it), and real measures to prevent net slippage/dumping of catch before it comes on board to actually be counted against those limits, the cap is simply unenforceable.  Yes, there are some voluntary bycatch avoidance efforts being made by the sea herring and mackerel fisheries, but they are just that–“voluntary”– they have yet to be proven effective, and are no substitute for legally mandated, enforceable conservation measures. 

While these are all points I’ve made before, the overarching point here is that this was not a case where a small interest group was petitioning for special protection.   Managing river herring and shad under a federal FMP seemed to be clearly in the wide public interest, and arguably a legal requirement.  So it’s a little bit irritating that the above referenced response seems to paint this as an environmentalist push to do something outrageous.  Moving forward with a stocks-in-a-fishery Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) had broad and diverse backing, and lost by only one vote at the Council.  The public comment/letters in the briefing book (over 37,000) showed overwhelming support and came not just from the environmental community, but from representatives of well-respected recreational groups, scientists, and even commercial fishing organizations.  The only organization that provided written comment in opposition was a commercial fishing organization representing corporations with a direct financial interest in avoiding restrictions on the fleet. (And by-the-way, no environmental group truly involved in council deliberations, as far as I know, ever wanted to shut down the fluke fishery… and while there’s some truth to the dogfish comment, it’s another red herring as the best available science at the time suggested that a population collapse was imminent). 

Protecting forage fish is unquestionably a priority for fishermen, because such fish are near the base of the food web and support the most important recreational as well as commercially valuable species.  A vote in favor of managing river herring and shad under a federal FMP in October, to me, would have represented a real effort to control at-sea catch.  It would have honored the conservation tradition of generations of anglers and the ongoing work and sacrifices of current anglers up and down the Atlantic Coast to conserve river herring and shad.  I do understand the justification for those who voted against it, but I couldn’t help but see a vote to manage them under a federal FMP as recreational priority, and somewhat of a litmus test.  And I’ve gotta say here that while of course we have to all work together to develop solutions that work best for everyone, a recreational seat does, indeed, exist to present and highlight, to a large extent, the interests of the recreational community, within the law of course, just as an industry seats frequently highlight commercial fishing interests.  Regardless, by taking real tangible steps to conserve and protect forage fish, you support conservation of other managed stocks important to anglers and commercial fishermen in an exponential way. 

At this particular meeting, we weren’t even voting to make river herring and shad federally managed stocks, just to move forward with a DEIS that would have simply given us a full analysis of what it would take to do this, enabling the council to make an informed decision.  As the response noted, a council member is obligated to decide issues based on “all of the information” and to give the greatest weight to “the most reliable of that information.”  I’m still having a hard time understanding why anyone would vote against a process designed to provide the council with more and better information about available management alternatives.  Sure it would have taken resources to develop such a document, but the public made it clear (with over 37,000 comments) that this was a priority worthy of resources. Instead, we now have an obligation to develop a “working group”, which, if it is to accomplish anything, would likely require resources as well—except with no commitment to them.  Moving forward with the DEIS was the next logical (and likely legally required) step in weighing all the information, and I thought we had formed a consensus to do just that when we voted to move forward with Amendment 15 in June of 2012.

At any rate, enough rehashing all this stuff.  I think at this point, we all understand each other, and to some extent it doesn’t really matter any longer.  Now that the council’s decision has been made (unless it is legally invalidated in court, where it is currently being challenged) we need to move forward.  It’s now imperative that we focus on the observer coverage issue (getting people on the boats to gage what the incidental river herring and shad catch really is).  We already voted such 100% coverage last year, but it’s pretty much a given at this point that NOAA Fisheries will say that even with industry sharing the costs,  it’s impossible given funding constraints.  We will almost certainly have to move forward with a provision that would require that the small mesh net industry pay 100% of observer costs if we are to hope for significant coverage.  In my opinion this is not unreasonable given that these fish are a public resource and we are allowing the large scale harvest of them for profit.  The people gaining from such a public resource should pay whatever price is required to make sure they are doing it sustainably while minimizing incidental catch.  I hope industry will step up and support such a proposal, and the initial indication is that they will.  The council also needs to pass a strong “framework” to address unobserved dumping or “slippage,” (releasing the net so that the catch cannot be accounted for). Allowing the net to be “slipped” before it can be sampled by observers undermines the potential for the cap to be meaningful; slippage allowances should really be limited to only true emergencies.

Yes, I was bummed that instead of going with the stocks in a fishery model, the council voted in favor of a motion to move forward with a “working group” to address river herring and shad incidental catch.  Because any recommendations coming out of such a working group will not have the force of law.  And really, history has shown that councils avoid making hard decisions unless the law requires them to.  With the obvious limitations in funding these days, I can’t help but see such an unfunded mandate in a rather dim light.  But perhaps I’m being too cynical here.  Indeed, this is a good step in the right direction.  Given the fact that the council will regularly review the process, and the fact that this working group has three years to show results before we consider the stocks-in-a-fisheries model again, I think there’s some real motivation for this working group to come up with something tangible.  In particular, I hope it can further develop the catch cap to serve as an enforceable science-based annual catch limit, in the way it would under law.  As the above referenced response notes, the public has to hold the council’s feet to the fire on this one though.  And I suspect they will.  

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posted in: General

November 12, 2013

Looking Back

Rip Cunningham, Spider Andresen and Barry Gibson accept IGFA Hall of Fame membership on behalf of Frank Woolner. Photo courtesy of IGFA.

Recently, I had the opportunity and privilege to attend the annual induction ceremony for the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame. I am ashamed to say that I have not attended many of these and somewhat selfishly attend only those where I personally know one or more of the inductees. All of those considered and ultimately inducted have contributed to the sport that we are so enthusiastic about. Almost all of them have a very strong conservation ethic.

While I did personally know several of those being inducted, I was there to celebrate the induction of Frank Woolner. Frank was the editor of Salt Water Sportsman when I first went to work there in the early 1970’s. As someone who has read the magazine since I was able to read, I saw Frank as a god-like figure. While I remained in awe for quite a while, I soon learned that like the rest of us, he put his pants on one leg at a time. Simply meaning, he was mortal. Frank and Hal Lyman, the publisher, were both well-respected names in the sport fishing world. Hal was inducted into the IGFA Hall of Fame a number of years ago.

Much about those early days at the magazine are a blurr, but my first day will remain etched in my brain forever. Frank, with his beret at a jaunty angle and pipe clenched in his teeth, sauntered into the office with cheerful hellos to the office staff. He often brought them chocolates from a local shop. While genuinely generous, he also wanted to keep the people who wrote the paychecks happy. He rounded the corner, looked at me and tossed a large manila envelope on my desk. “Take a look at these rejection letters and you’ll get an idea of how to write them!” he said as he disappeared into Hal Lyman’s office.

The very first rejection letter was to a writer that I happened to know, but whose name I’ll keep to myself. It read, “Dear XXX, This is the worst blankingmanuscript I have ever read. P.S. Sorry to see that your camera got dunked in salt water.” (The photos were horribly blurry and I can assure you that Frank did not say “freaking”.) I just about fell out of my seat laughing.

Frank mentored more up-and-coming outdoor writers than anyone else. He had a great knack for stringing together just the right words and an ability to quietly teach. This was surprising for someone who did not have a high school education. Frank did have a photographic memory. He read constantly and could recite almost any poetry asked of him. I tried it a couple of times by starting poems that he would finish without blinking an eye, while I knew only the first few lines.

Both Frank and Hal were way ahead of the times in the efforts to get anglers to be conscious of the impact they had as users of the resource. They came up with such slogans as “Limit your catch, don’t catch your limit” and “Release today for fishing tomorrow.”  That was back in the 1960’s. Frank also came up with the term for the standard grip and grin photo of the day. It was a “Dead fish, dumb fisherman” photo.

In the Hall of Fame, when you see Frank’s Royal typewriter, his Calcutta surf rod and Penn Squidder reel filled with early braided line, you see how far we have come since those pioneer days. Tackle and techniques have advanced to a point that would be unrecognizable to many of those pioneers, but the one thing that has not changed is the love of the sport. We always need to follow in their footsteps, be cognizant that we do have an impact, and conserve our resources for those who will follow.

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Rooster Road Trip: For the Public Land Pheasant Hunter

hunter and pheasant
Pheasant hunting on public lands.

I don’t own land. I live in an apartment in a city of 2-plus million people. But I love to hunt ring-necked pheasants. So I rely primarily on publicly accessible lands for almost all my hunting. Can you relate?

I know many of you can, which is why for the last four years, Pheasants Forever has held its Rooster Road Trip event, a one-week online hunt that showcases not only the opportunities for the public-land pheasant hunter but also Pheasants Forever’s heavy involvement in many of these projects. And to underscore the breadth of Pheasants Forever’s upland habitat work, the Rooster Road Trip makes its way across five states in five days.

This year, even in this era of unprecedented modern wildlife habitat loss, we once again found reasons for optimism and projects worth modeling in other parts of pheasant country:

  • In North Dakota, the Sakakawea Pheasants Forever chapter approached the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about adding food plots and shelterbelts to aid pheasants through the tough North Dakota winters. This was more than 20 years ago. The work continues to this day, and the chapter showed us a signature tract where they plan to embark on their next round of projects in 2014.
  • In North Dakota, Pheasants Forever Farm Bill wildlife biologists worked with private landowners to enroll land in the Private Land Open to Sportsmen (PLOTS) program.
  • In South Dakota, Pheasants Forever habitat specialists performed a 90-acre prescribed burn to rejuvenate the prairie, planted 29 shelterbelt acres for winter wildlife cover and controlled noxious weeds at a north-central state game production area.
  • In Nebraska, Pheasants Forever teamed up with Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to work with private landowners and enroll land and administer the Open Fields and Waters Program. Approximately 300,000 acres are currently enrolled in this effort to expand hunter and angler access to private lands.
  • In Iowa, the Northern Polk and Iowa Capitol Pheasants Forever chapters have led habitat restoration efforts – native grass plantings and invasive tree removal – at multiple state wildlife management areas just minutes outside of Des Moines.
  • In Minnesota, the Nobles County Pheasants Forever chapterhas been aggressively using its locally raised funds and finding additional partners and available state and federal funds to purchase lands in the area, then open them to the public. In 30 years, the chapter has helped permanently protect more than 2,000 acres as either state wildlife management areas or federal waterfowl production areas.

    hunter with ring-neck pheasant
    The author with a ring-necked pheasant hunted on public land enrolled in the Private Land Open to Sportsmen (PLOTS) program. Photo Courtesy of Anthony Hauck.

Hunting with local Pheasants Forever volunteers in five locations represents just a snapshot of Pheasants Forever’s impact. We have 700-plus (including the Quail Forever) chapters doing public land acquisition and restoration work across the country – areas open to me, areas open to you and areas that will be open to hunters in years to come for their own rooster road trips.

View Rooster Road Trip daily photo galleries here.

-Anthony Hauck is Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor

 

 

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posted in: General

November 8, 2013

Hackles Raised Over Gill Netting in Florida

After an all-out gill net assault on Florida’s mullet population, order has been restored.

My blog last week told how a circuit court judge in Florida’s Panhandle ruled that the state’s constitutional net ban amendment, which has been in effect for more than 18 years, was not, in her opinion, being correctly interpreted and enforced by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and therefore netters could once again use gill nets.

At that time, the state attorney general had filed an appeal, which put a stay on the judge’s ruling.  Problems resulted when that judge, Jackie Lee Fulford, rejected the appeal on the basis that she believed the netters who challenged the amendment would win on appeal and would be hurt if the stay on her ruling remained.

Netters wasted no time in pulling their old gill nets out of storage, buying up as many new nets as they could and killing as many mullet as possible, mainly in the Panhandle and Jacksonville area. Several netters posted photos of their nets filled with gilled mullet in their boats on Facebook.

Unfortunately, on Nov. 1, the FWC decided not to enforce the net ban amendment. According to a source with the FWC, the agency was afraid it might get sued if law enforcement officers arrested netters and the judge’s ruling was later upheld.

According to prominent Fort Lauderdale attorney Ali Waldman, the FWC had nothing to worry about.

“They should wait until the ruling has gone through all of the challenges, and all of the appeals, before they stop enforcing the amendment,” she said. “It’s silly.”

The state attorney’s office kept at it, and on the afternoon of Nov. 6, the First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee, Fla., reinstated the stay of the judge’s ruling. Col. Calvin Adams Jr. of the FWC quickly sent out a memorandum that said, “Effective immediately, we are resuming enforcement of the net [ban] amendment and all associated statutes and rules.”

Adams went on to say that officers should use discretion in case they come across netters who are not aware of the stay, which will be the defense of every mullet netter they come across from here on out.

In the meantime, the appeals process must play out. Coastal Conservation Association Florida, which played a critical role in getting the net ban amendment passed by 72 percent of Florida’s voters in 1994, has intervened in the appeal.

My belief is that Judge Fulford has been grossly misinformed by the netters who sued the FWC and has no understanding of the issue. In her final judgement, she noted that the net ban prohibits all entangling nets except cast nets, so it is absurd that FWC allows netters to use seine nets, which occasionally entangle fish. She also wrote that it appears FWC is enforcing the net ban only to keep mullet fishermen from fishing.

The thing is, netters caught 12.5 million pounds of mullet in 2011 using seines and cast nets, so it’s not like they can’t catch mullet without a gill net. It’s just harder to catch mullet using those nets compared to gill nets, which catch more mullet with less effort.

Before the net ban, netters were catching upwards of 25 million pounds of mullet a year, which was hurting the mullet population as well as the populations of gamefish that feed on them such as redfish, snook and tarpon.

It certainly would be fitting if, because of the lawsuit and Fulford’s ruling, the FWC decides to outlaw seines. Of course, knowing the lengths to which netters will go to fight the net ban, the FWC might also have to outlaw dip nets because there is a chance that while netting a shrimp or crab, you could entangle a glass minnow.

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“I Will Never Forget”

In many cultures, mountains and water have a special significance and attraction. In China, an ancient song titled “High Mountains and Flowing Water” represents cherished friendship. In the Bible, Psalm 23’s well-known verse three teaches, “He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul,” and those of us who pursue fly fishing in the mountains around moving water know the therapeutic value of a day spent on the water.

In 2007, a group in Bozeman decided that this experience would help aid in the recovery of our nation’s wounded warriors from the injuries, both physical and psychological, that they received during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. From this idea sprang the Bozeman-based Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation for which I served as both the volunteer director of fly fishing operations and a board member from 2007-2010. During that time, the program grew from two five-day events to eight events that served 40-50 wounded warriors and their spouses each year.

The typical fishing experience is a five-day event that begins with equipment fitting, compliments of Simms Fishing Products, followed by a day of fly fishing instruction on a local pond; we call it Fly Fishing 101. Events typically conclude with two days of guided fishing and a sight-seeing trip into Yellowstone National Park.

Participants with injuries ranging from bilateral amputations to post-traumatic stress disorder come from military medical facilities across the U.S. and are fully equipped, accommodated and cared for during their stay by a group of dedicated Warriors and Quiet Waters volunteers.

I’ve been fortunate to have been involved with Warriors and Quiet Waters and another great therapeutic fly fishing program, Project Healing Waters, for seven years. During that time, I’ve seen first-hand the palpable impact that time spent in the mountains, around flowing water and fly fishing has on these wounded warriors and vets.

I could tell their stories myself, but the most powerful testimonies come directly from the participants themselves.

Fly fishing has given me a chance to ease my mind. There is no peace quite like being on the river surrounded by surreal beauty with only a friend, Mother Nature and yourself. When I leave the river, I feel rejuvenated and optimistic.”

– Avery, a wounded U.S. Army soldier

“I really wanted to mention the day we had at the creek. I had a great time, and even if I had not caught a single fish it would have still been tops. The scenery was great, the wildlife was awesome and I could have just sat on the bank and imagined I was in heaven. I will never forget my day on the creek. It was like a year’s worth of therapy wrapped into a single moment.”

– John C., U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class

Testimonies such as these underscore the importance of ensuring that all Americans can enjoy a day on the water or discover the camaraderie forged during trips afield. These experiences would be harder to come by if not for the groundwork laid by the forefathers of conservation like Theodore Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold and others. And groups like the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited help uphold our nation’s great conservation legacy.

We do this because these high mountains and flowing water experiences change lives, and, in some cases, they even save them. I will leave you with the following story from Chris, a U.S. Air Force wounded warrior:

While I was in the ICU, I died three times, flat-lined. I don’t recall much, except for the last time. The last time I flat-lined I do recall accepting it that my body just could not handle the stress of it any longer. Things were going dark for me, but I remembered a Warriors and Quiet Waters fishing trip that I took to Montana. I was fishing at the place where they filmed the movie A River Runs Through It. I saw the old train tracks, and I saw myself sitting on a rock just fishing, not trying too hard, but just relaxing. It was the most relaxing place ever for me. But, I knew I was going to die and this was it. But when this happened, I pictured my son sitting on the rock with me smiling away as we were fishing. Then, all the alarms were going off in ICU, but I accepted it and then everything went black. Four days or so later I woke up. I was out the entire time. I was told by the nurse I flat-lined three times and almost died. In her words it was a miracle I am still alive.

Images courtesy Dave Kumlien.

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