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posted in: General

February 19, 2014

More striped bass catch-and-release a good idea?

Striped bass close-up.
Striped bass. Photo Courtesy of John McMurray.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will remember that two weeks ago, I wrote about a recent suggestion by some that we open up the exclusive economic zone, or “EEZ” to striped bass fishing so that anglers in Virginia and North Carolina could have access to the large bodies of big fish that have been found to winter offshore there. It may be a good idea to read that blog before continuing:  OF STRIPED BASS, THE EEZ AND THE SAME OLD (EXPLETIVE)

In short, the EEZ is that area of the ocean outside of 3 miles, or what our government considers federal waters. Everything outside of that, up to 200 miles, is off limits to striper fishing. It has been for 25 years. Such a closure was put in place to protect the spawning stock back when things got really bad for striped bass. Since then, it has served as a critical buffer for the species and really the only place the fish don’t get absolutely hammered – at least, not legally.

To understand how critical the EEZ closure is, consider that just last week, on a joint NCDMF/USFWS tagging survey, five people with hook and line gear tagged a total of 274 stripers fishing 24 miles off the North Carolina coast. Included was one 74-pound striper, reportedly 10 or so fish exceeding 50 pounds, and too many 30s and 40s to count. Such large concentrations of big adult fish do indeed occur offshore and currently are not accessible to fishermen. Given the striped bass’ decline, these are exactly the fish we should be protecting, and while there are some enforcement hiccups, we are indeed protecting them. That is unquestionably a good thing.

The EEZ should remain closed. There is absolutely no reason to open it. Certainly, I got some feedback from those who disagree, and while I understand the rationale I think it’s based on a false premise. Their argument is that so much illegal fishing occurs in the EEZ that reducing the bag limit from two to one fish and allowing folks to fish in the EEZ would actually reduce fishing mortality. In other words, instead of killing two fish illegally, they’d be killing one legally. I think that’s bullshit, though. For one, the Coast Guard has actually been really good on the enforcement stuff in the last couple of years. Sure, some illegal targeting of striped bass probably takes place, but from what I’m hearing, it’s not near as significant as it was a few years ago. Like I said in my last EEZ piece, an increasingly sophisticated Coast Guard and serious fines have made most realize that it just isn’t worth it. Frankly, I kinda think the guys using the reduced fishing mortality argument are really just throwing it out there, because they are simply interested in getting on those large concentrations of wintering fish.

So, now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, the point of this week’s blog is to take a look at what opening up the EEZ to just catch-and-release fishing would mean. And I bring this up now, because at the last Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) meeting the Striped Bass Board discussed the potential of such an opening, which confused me a little bit, because… well, because catch-and-release fishing already exists in the EEZ.

Technically, it’s not legal to fish for them. The language in the regulation is pretty clear on that point. But it really appears to be an unenforceable regulation, as the angler isn’t retaining the evidence. So, one could just claim he/she was targeting another species. That said, the scuttlebutt is that some perhaps overly ambitious boarding officers have been boarding vessels and writing tickets for people fishing in areas of the EEZ where there doesn’t appear to be anything but striped bass. Or maybe it was that they were just writing warnings. I don’t know. Either way, this is the first I’ve heard of any such enforcement action for catch-and-release fishing in the EEZ.

As I referenced in the last EEZ blog, there are lots of businesses in both Virginia and North Carolina that simply don’t have much business anymore, because, for one, there’s real enforcement of the EEZ closure now, but also because the stock has contracted to the point where the inshore/legal striper fishery in the winter is virtually non-existent. So, making it legal to go out and target some of these large wintering fish in the EEZ might indeed help these guys out. I mean, the point is that these guys could advertise such a fishery. Get guys to drive down from Jersey, etc. to get in on it. So from that perspective I do get it. And this is precisely why the subject was brought up at ASMFC.

Close big bass.
Big striped bass. Photo courtesy of John McMurray.

On the surface it sounds pretty harmless, right? What could be wrong with such a policy? And why wouldn’t we all want this? Seems like a win/win. But I think we have to be very careful. If this was 2006 and we were at peak abundance, I’d probably be inclined to think, yeah, this a good idea – and probably harmless. But we aren’t there anymore. In fact we’re in the midst of a pretty precipitous decline, and it’s very possible that we’ll be over the fishing mortality threshold (read overfishing) and the stock will have fallen below the spawning stock biomass threshold (read overfished) by the end of this year.

With that in mind, we have to understand that even with an all-release fishery, there will be some release/discard mortality. I’m pretty sure 8 percent is the number the assessment uses. That may not sound significant, but extrapolated over all those fish that are caught and released (remember the 274 stripers caught in the tagging survey by one boat with only five anglers on board) you’ve definitely got an increase in fishing mortality. And we’ve also got to remember that these are pretty much all old, large fish – the ones where the real release mortality rate is generally much higher than 8 percent.

The other thing that concerns me about making such a catch-and-release fishery “legal” is that I suspect it will invite non-compliance. The big fleets of boats outside of the 3 mile limit used to send up red flags. That won’t be the case if there’s a “legal” fishery out there, which is fine, assuming everyone is in compliance, prosecuting a strictly catch-and-release fishery… I doubt that will be the case. There will likely be a significant number of knuckleheads hiding fish in compartments.

Yeah, I don’t really know where I’m at on this right now. Really, I don’t think this stock needs any increase in fishing mortality right now, even if it’s incremental. On the other hand, I intuitively think, “So what, it’s catch-and-release… there won’t be that much mortality, and people are doing it anyway” (of course it will be on a much larger scale now though). But that’s just a gut feeling, and my gut is often wrong. The logical part of me thinks this is a bad idea, at least right now. I guess for me to really make up my mind, I’d have to see a full analysis by the Striped Bass Technical Committee, but I suspect such an analysis would be less than comprehensive. Often such analyses don’t take into account noncompliance, not to mention all the boneheads who don’t know how to – or simply don’t take the time or expend the energy to – properly release a big fish. In other words, I suspect the Technical Committee would just apply the 8 percent release mortality rate across the board. And I believe, particularly with the large fish we’re talking about here, that it is much higher.

Striped bass with angler.
Photo courtesy of John McMurray.

Where are we now with all of this? As mentioned, the initial, albeit abbreviated discussion has taken place at ASMFC. If I understood that conversation correctly, commissioners need more info/analysis from the Technical Committee, and they also wanted to hear from the Advisory Panel (I look forward to weighing in here!). I should note here though that that ASMFC in itself cannot reopen the EEZ. It can recommend only that the feds (NOAA Fisheries) open the area again. Of course, given the processes for making such public decisions, the feds would have to offer significant justification to reopen the EEZ, there would have to be scoping, public hearings, etc. So I certainly don’t think that this is something that’s right around the corner. That said, I do know that the Coast Guard already has had some preliminary discussions on how they might enforce such an all-release fishery.

Moving forward, I guess we’ll see how this all shakes out. Stay tuned! I’ll be sure to be reporting on this as we get more information.

 

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posted in: General

February 18, 2014

A fair shake for saltwater recreational anglers

Mike Nussman of the American Sportfishing Association With Gumballs.
Mike Nussman, president of the American Sportfishing Association, demonstrates the allocation of saltwater fish caught by commercial fishermen in his right hand and recreational anglers in his left hand. Photo by Richard Gibson/Hi-Seas Photography.

The problem with federal fisheries management in coastal waters is that nearly everything is based on commercial fishing. How much of a particular species can be caught, when they can be caught and who can catch them leans heavily toward commercial fishermen. Recreational saltwater anglers get left holding the chum bag.

Mike Nussman, the president of the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), explained the problem during a news conference last week at the Miami International Boat Show using gumballs. In one hand, he held a glass pitcher filled with gumballs, which represented the total amount of saltwater fish caught by commercial fishermen. In the other hand, he held a pitcher with two gumballs. That represented the total number of saltwater fish caught by recreational anglers.

Mike Nussman catch value
Mike Nussman illustrates the economic value of recreational fishing in the U.S. with the gumballs in the pitcher in his left hand compared to the value of commercial fishing in the pitcher in his right hand. Photo by Steve Waters.

Then he poured gumballs from the first pitcher into the second pitcher to represent the economic value of those catches. The second, recreational pitcher had more gumballs than the first, which illustrated just how much more valuable recreational fishing is to the U.S. economy than commercial fishing.

Nussman is one of many who believes it is time that federal fishery managers take into account the value of recreational fishing when managing saltwater fisheries. “Why does the National Marine Fisheries Service pay so little attention to recreational fishing?” Nussman asked during the news conference on the findings of the Commission for Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management.

As the commission’s report, “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries,” noted, the nation’s 11 million recreational saltwater anglers spent $27 billion in 2011 on fishing tackle, equipment and trip-related goods such as bait, ice, gas, meals and lodging. That generated more than $70 billion in economic output and supported 455,000 jobs. Commercial fishing supported 381,000 jobs. But there were 210 jobs for every 100,000 pounds of fish landed by recreational anglers, compared with only 4.5 jobs in the commercial fishing industry for that amount of fish.

Those are impressive numbers, but they are ignored by federal fishery managers and congressmen, who tend to think only of the bottom lines of commercial fishermen. The goal of the commission, which was chaired by Johnny Morris of Bass Pro Shops and Scott Deal of Maverick Boats, and organizations such as the ASA, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Center for Coastal Conservation and the National Marine Manufacturers Association, is to have those numbers count when managing saltwater fisheries.

Specifically, “The commission envisions a marine fisheries management system that conserves fishery resources, provides consistency in regulations, and produces the full range of saltwater recreational fishing’s economic, social and conservation benefits for the nation.” To achieve that, the commission came up with six key elements that should be included when the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act is reauthorized by Congress:

  • Establishing a national policy for recreational fishing, much like individual states, such as Florida, which has effective size limits, bag limits and, in some cases, seasons to protect gamefish. Magnuson-Stevens currently only focuses on catch-and-release practices for recreational anglers.
  • Adopting a revised approach to recreational saltwater fisheries management that promotes conservation and access. Instead of managing recreational fisheries for maximum sustainable yield like commercial fisheries, manage them by harvest rate instead, which is how recreational fishing for striped bass is managed.
  • Allocation of marine fisheries for the greatest benefit to the nation. Species targeted by both commercial and recreational anglers, such as red snapper, need to be managed based on accurate data, conservation and socioeconomic value.
  • Creating reasonable latitude in stock rebuilding timelines. Magnuson-Stevens says the time to rebuild stocks should be no more than 10 years, which for some species, is not realistic. Flexibility is needed, such as low harvest rates so stocks can grow and anglers still can fish.
  • Establishing a process for cooperative management, which means the feds should work closely with states to best manage specific fisheries.
  • Managing for the forage base. The feds seldom manage the bottom of the food chain, which is essential for healthy fisheries.

“Magnuson-Stevens hasn’t changed since 1976,” when it was enacted, said Jeff Angers, the president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “Every amendment and reauthorization has focused on commercial fishing.”

Now it’s up to conservation and fishing organizations and individuals to get the message out to Congress that the value of recreational fishing must be considered when reauthorizing Magnuson-Stevens.

“It’s a time for all of us to unite,” Morris said, “and speak to our policy makers.”

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February 6, 2014

TRCP has a member in the Olympics!

Lowell Bailey, U.S. Biathlon Team, shooting
The TRCP is proud to have a member, Lowell Bailey of the U.S. Biathlon Team, headed to the Sochi Olympics! Photo courtesy of US Biathlon/Nordic Focus.

Not only is Lowell Bailey one of the top biathletes in the world, he’s a TRCP member!

If you’ve never seen a biathlon race, be sure to tune in to the Olympics. The sport is a combination of precision target shooting and long-distance Nordic skiing (while carrying your rifle). Americans have never medaled in this event. But this year, the team is stacked and ready to go.

We heard Lowell grew up in the Adirondacks, a conservation (and fly fishing) haven. So we chatted with him to learn more about the sport and talked about everything from custom rifles to fly fishing and even T.R.!

________________________________________________________________________________________________

TRCP: Biathlon is not a sport you hear a lot about. How did you get involved with it?

Lowell: I’ve cross country skied my whole life and began racing probably around 5 years old. When I was 13 or so I was asked to a talent ID camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. Well, you put a .22 in the hands of a 13 year old kid, and I fell in love with the sport right away.

TRCP: What do you like most about biathlon?

Lowell: Biathlon is unique because you have two entirely different sports that couldn’t be farther away from each other, and you have to figure out a way to make both of those sports work together. To have a good biathlon race you have shoot well and ski fast, and the pursuit of doing those two things is extremely challenging and extremely motivating.

TRCP: How does the shooting aspect of a biathlon race work?

Lowell: The shooting in biathlon is different from other competitive shooting sports. Because you’re racing, you’re always under the clock. A typical shooting stage lasts around 20-25 seconds. In that time you ski into the range, take your rifle off your back and get into position, take five shots and put your rifle back on. That all happens in 20-25 seconds.

TRCP: Wow. So, what’s the distance and size of the targets?

Lowell: There are two different positions in biathlon: prone, which is lying down, and standing. Prone position you’re shooting at a target roughly the size of an Oreo cookie from 50 meters. The standing target is a little bigger, roughly the size of a CD, because the standing position is less stable than the prone position.

TRCP: Here at the TRCP, we are a bunch of gun geeks.  Can you give a rundown of what you’re shooting?

Lowell: We shoot .22 caliber long rifles with iron sights, no scopes or anything like that. The rifles that 95 percent of the World Cup field uses are made by Anschutz, in Germany. They’re highly precise, accurate rifles. They weigh roughly seven pounds, and we wear the rifles on our back during the entire race. Each athlete’s rifle has a customized stock, made of wood or carbon fiber, that’s made to fit that athlete’s body type and shooting preferences.

Lowell Bailey, fly fishing
Lowell Bailey, fly fishing in his free time. Photo by Erika Edgley.

TRCP: We’ve been told you are an avid fly fisherman. How did you get into fishing?

Lowell: Well, I grew in the Adirondack Park, and as you may know, the Adirondacks has some of the best fishing in the country due to the fact that it protected as a state park. My parents always encouraged my sister and me to be outdoors, and fishing was something we just did for as long as I can remember. At some point I moved from spin casting to fly fishing, and now I do both. I’m lucky to live in Lake Placid where I can fish the AuSable River, which is a great trout stream.

TRCP: Do you ever get to go fishing while you’re on the road for competition or training?

Lowell: I do actually. I’ve fished a few times on the Traun River in Germany for rainbows and brown trout. Rudi Heger is a world renowned fishing guide out of southern Germany, and he’s also a big biathlon fan, so he’s taken me and some of my teammates out on a few different fishing excursions that were pretty amazing.

Rudi actually set up a biathlon/fly fishing competition, for a promotional video and just because it was funny. There were three athletes, and we skied with fly rods on our back up to the edge of this private pond that’s just chock full of rainbows. We had to quickly assemble our rods and the first person to catch a fish was the winner. It’s all on video somewhere…(It didn’t take us long to find this video…check it out here!)

Lowell Bailey, with trout
Lowell with a trout. Photo by Erika Edgley.

TRCP: How did growing up in the Adirondacks shape your views on conservation?

Lowell: I think that the Adirondacks is one of the more unique areas in the country because you have private land ownership within a state park, so development and the way you are allowed to use the land is highly regulated by the Adirondack Park Agency. As a result, we have this robust tourist industry that drives the local economy in Lake Placid and the surrounding areas, and it’s all because of conservation. We have mountains for people to hike in; we have lakes for people to fish on; the recreational possibilities in Lake Placid and the greater Tri-Lakes Region are really endless.

TRCP: Your sister leaked to us that you use a T.R. quote as your pre-race mantra. Which one?

That’s true. The quote is “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” I use that quote almost daily and definitely every time I go into competition. On the World Cup circuit, there are typically 25,000 to 35,000 spectators in the stands as well as media, coaches, other athletes. It’s a very distracting environment, and in order to maintain my

Lowell Bailey, U.S. Biathlon Team, Nordic Skiing
Lowell Bailey of the U.S. Biathlon Team, competing. Photo courtesy of US Biathlon/Nordic Focus.

focus I repeat that quote in my head while I’m warming up. It reminds me to stay focused on things I can control, and the things that I can’t control, they’ll be what they will be. The only thing that I can do at that given time, on that given day, is focus on the elements that I can control.

TRCP: Very cool. Lowell, we really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. And we wish you the very best in Sochi.

Lowell: Thanks. I’m psyched the TRCP thought of me. I think what you guys do is awesome.

Follow in Lowell’s footsteps and become a TRCP member.

 

The first biathlon race of the Sochi Olympics will occur Saturday, Feb. 8. For the full schedule of biathlon events and to learn more about Lowell and the U.S. team, visit the Olympic biathlon website.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1YTzbLcUQM

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posted in: General

January 31, 2014

Celebrate World Wetlands Day

February 2 is World Wetlands Day, a day to celebrate wetlands of global ecological significance, like the Chesapeake Bay and the Everglades, and the important role wetlands of all shapes and sizes play in our lives.

Did you know that nine out of every 10 fish caught by recreational anglers in America depend on wetlands at some point in their life cycles? Did you know that 75 percent of our nation’s migratory birds do as well? That’s why wetlands conservation is central to the TRCP’s mission to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish.

However, the challenge is daunting. For the first time since the 1980s, annual wetland losses are on the rise. Wetland loss is most severe in coastal communities like those in the Gulf of Mexico where 80,000 acres of coastal wetlands disappear each year.

Coastal wetlands are vital to healthy marine fisheries and ecosystems, and the drastic loss of these wetlands is a threat to the future of recreational fishing. Working with recreational fishermen, the TRCP laid out a plan to preserve and protect coastal wetlands throughout the Gulf of Mexico basin.

The TRCP also launched the Barnyard to Boatyard Conservation Exchange to bring 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.

The TRCP is also laying the foundation for long-term conservation of wetlands by urging the administration to restore Clean Water Act protections to waters important to America’s sportsmen, such as those in the Prairie Pothole Region, which provides nesting habitat to as many as 70 percent of all the ducks in North America. Too many wetland acres are at risk of pollution and destruction because their Clean Water Act protections are in jeopardy.

Video: Our friend Steven Rinella, host of the show MeatEater on the Sportsman Channel, looks at how we can stem the tide of wetland loss in this video.

U.S. wetlands do much more than provide valuable fish and wildlife habitat. They are the source of drinking water for most Americans, they soak up flood waters, lessen the risk of flood damages, and they filter pollutants out of water that otherwise would have to be treated at great expense to cities and towns.

On World Wetlands Day, take time to think about local wetlands important to you and your family. Then consider taking action to support TRCP’s efforts.

Whit Fosburgh

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posted in: General

January 27, 2014

The State of the Union that sportsmen and -women would like to hear

Below is the State of the Union address that sportsmen and -women would like to hear.

My fellow Americans, tonight I want to talk about what it is that makes America great and what we need to do to keep it great. And I want to talk about jobs.

America was built on the notion of rugged individualism, and no one personified this more than Theodore Roosevelt. But President Roosevelt, perhaps the nation’s greatest sportsman, understood that the nation’s resources – its lands, waters, minerals, timber, fish and wildlife – were not inexhaustible. Without proper stewardship, without conservation, we would abuse nature’s bounty and leave a legacy of extinction and pollution for future generations.

So Roosevelt did something about it. He created the core of our public lands network, conserving hundreds of millions of acres where anyone could hunt, fish, hike or just enjoy God’s bounty.

Hunters and anglers across the nation picked up on Roosevelt’s challenge and chose to pay – through excise taxes, licenses, stamps and other means – to ensure that this conservation legacy would be implemented, expanded and professionally managed. Today the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is the envy of the world and is responsible for more than 40 million Americans getting outside to fish and/or hunt every year.

Our conservation system is the foundation of an outdoor economy that generates $646 billion in direct expenditures every year and supports more than 6 million jobs. These jobs are growing in number every year – more than 5 percent annually, even through the Great Recession – and they’re jobs that will never be exported abroad.

But as Theodore Roosevelt understood, we need to protect our conservation legacy from those who favor today’s bottom line over tomorrow’s collective wealth. We do not need to look very hard to see that the same forces that Roosevelt battled more than a century ago are still active today. Consider:

  • Those who would put the world’s largest open pit mine, which would require toxic remediation forever, in Alaska at the headwaters of the world’s most productive salmon fishery.
  • Those who would ignore the threat of a leaking chemical storage tank in West Virginia and what it might do to a river and the people who get water from that river, and yet who argue that the Clean Water Act is an inappropriate government intrusion on free enterprise.
  • And those in Congress who propose selling off our public lands, or who would mandate unsustainable resource extraction from the public’s lands, or who would limit the public’s legitimate voice in how our public lands are managed.

Today I am proposing a seven step plan to re-affirm America’s commitment to conservation.

  1. I propose to reinvest in conservation. Today conservation represents just about 1 percent of the federal budget, down from about 2.5 percent in the 1970s. By 2020, America should return to a conservation commitment of at least 1.6 percent of the federal budget, the same level it was in Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
  2. We must fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, State and Tribal Grants program, WaterSmart and the other programs that invest in on-the-ground conservation. Not only do these programs meet real needs and create jobs, they leverage more than three times the federal investment from state and private funds.
  3. We must commit to expanding public access for all Americans, including our hunters and anglers. We will fully fund the USDA Open Fields Program and LWCF and target the acquisition and easement funds to projects that help reconnect the public’s access to its public lands.
  4. We must pass a Farm Bill that rewards stewardship. America’s farmers are the most productive in the world and farmers are by definition land stewards. But if we incentivize poor stewardship, we have no one but ourselves to blame when we lose topsoil, foul our rivers, and watch pheasants and other species disappear. The new Farm Bill must help farmers and ranchers act as stewards through a robust commitment to conservation programs and by eliminating any programs that encourage unsustainable practices.
  5. We must balance energy production with conservation. In 2010, I proposed sweeping changes to how the nation does energy development on our public lands, and in 2014, I will finally implement those changes. All of them. In addition, we must recognize that renewable energy also has impacts. Wind farms and solar arrays must be sited in the right places, as must transmission corridors. We will invest in cellulosic ethanol and eliminate unwise mandates for additional corn ethanol production. We will do all this while recognizing that we must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and challenge the rest of the world to do the same.
  6. We must invest in sustainable fisheries. America has done a remarkable job over the last decade of reducing overfishing and rebuilding depleted fish stocks but the time has come to invest in recreational anglers. Recreational anglers represent about half the economic benefit generated by our marine fisheries, but they are managed under a system almost exclusively designed for commercial fisheries. I call on my administration and Congress to work together to amend the current system so that broad social and economic benefits can be maximized while we maintain our commitment to conservation, thereby ensuring that future generations can enjoy catching and eating the ocean’s bounty.
  7. Finally, we must work together to address the oncoming water crisis. For California, that crisis is already here. For other states, it’s on the way. We need better water planning and a stronger investment in water conservation. I am not suggesting that we change the basic tenets under which water is managed, but unless we work together and with a sense of urgency, drought emergencies, dry rivers, lost fisheries and withered crops will be our legacy. We must also strengthen the Clean Water Act so that wetlands and streams can play their natural role in water conservation and ensuring water quality.

In closing, Theodore Roosevelt once said that “There can be no greater issue to this country than that of conservation.” He was right. The legacy we leave to future generations will define this generation. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue, nor liberal or conservative. It is an issue that is core to what America is today and what it should be in the future.

Thank you, and God bless America.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA

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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