As marine fisheries legislation heats up, it’s time to revamp the federal management system
Congress is moving forward quickly to revise the federal act that governs our nation’s marine resources. The sportfishing and boating industries, along with recreational saltwater anglers, are stepping up efforts to ensure that their economic, social and conservation priorities are well represented.
As the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act reauthorization advances on Capitol Hill, Bass Pro Shops Founder Johnny Morris and Maverick Boats President Scott Deal, leaders in the recreational angling industry and co-chairmen of the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, will present A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries at the National Press Club on March 26, 2014, from 9:30–10:30 a.m.
The report, introduced to fishing and boating industry stakeholders on Feb. 13, 2014, at the Progressive Miami International Boat Show, is receiving critical acclaim as an important step toward commonsense saltwater fisheries management. Now, with strong support from the boating and fishing community, the commission is taking the report to the Hill to work with Congress as the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization proceeds.
The Morris-Deal Commission assembled an expert panel of state and federal agency administrators, researchers, industry representatives and economists to promote a proactive vision for saltwater fisheries management. The current Magnuson-Stevens Act does not sufficiently address this important use of our nation’s public fishery resources. The commission’s report addresses recreational fishing specifically and differentiates the economic, social and conservation needs from those of commercial fishing.
According to NOAA Fisheries, 11 million Americans recreationally fish in saltwater each year. These sportsmen and -women contribute more than $70 billion to the nation’s economy and $1.5 billion for on-the-ground conservation of aquatic resources and habitats.
Who: Johnny Morris, founder and CEO, Bass Pro Shops
Scott Deal, president, Maverick Boats
When: Wednesday, March 26, 9:30–10:30 a.m. EDT
Where: Fourth Estate Room, The National Press Club
529 14th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20045
Conservation leaders meet to learn about responsible energy development
Every year, professionals from state wildlife agencies, federal agencies, NGOs, industry and elsewhere gather to attend the Wildlife Management Institute’s North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference. These dedicated leaders come together to discuss policy, conservation and management of North America’s wildlife and other natural resources. The North American Conference hosts sessions on conservation topics, workshops and receptions enabling professionals to interact and learn.
As part of the event, the TRCP hosted its 3rd annual reception highlighting our energy work in western Colorado. In 2011, the TRCP and The High Lonesome Ranch, a working ranch that encompasses close to 400 square miles near the small town of DeBeque, launched a pilot project to demonstrate responsible energy development at the landscape scale. Paul Vahldiek, HLR president and CEO and a TRCP board member, generously offered the TRCP the opportunity to develop a project that focuses on partnerships, practices and policy. The project aims to demonstrate how a working landscape can be restored, conserved and managed for multiple-use values. By demonstrating energy development that is balanced with other resource values, we can help improve federal energy policy and establish a model for others to follow.
This demonstration energy project will implement the recommendations and principles that have been developed and championed by the TRCP and its conservation partners. It will provide a real world example of how development can be done differently and therefore prevent the major loss of habitat and biodiversity and employing scientific approaches to wildlife management and mitigation.
Part of the TRCP mission focuses on developing partnerships for conservation success. To that end, the TRCP and HLR established a regional stakeholders group that includes sportsmen; local, state and federal government representatives; industry leaders; NGOs and local business owners to help guide the project. The group has met numerous times over the past year and a half to develop objectives and best practices and coordinate conservation activities for the project. This stakeholder process helps reduce conflict, increases investment in the project and builds local partnerships to help change policy and export our success.
The project was submitted to the Grand Junction Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management and is currently under review and consideration within the range of alternatives for the revision of its resource management plan, the final version of which is scheduled for release this fall. Field Manager Katie Stevens told attendees at the TRCP reception that “BLM is open to creative ideas that help the agency manage and balance multiple resource values.”
In his remarks at reception, Chad Bishop, assistant director, wildlife and natural resources, for Colorado Parks and Wildlife said, “The future of the West depends on finding ways to manage lands in economically viable ways while successfully conserving and enhancing our treasured wildlife resources. The multi-partner collaborative project on High Lonesome Ranch provides a model for the West and provides hope for the future. In that spirit, Colorado Parks and Wildlife considers The High Lonesome Ranch to be an exemplary private land partner.”
Scott Stewart, general manager of the HLR, said, “There’s something in this project for every stakeholder. This project has the opportunity to leave behind a legacy and a landscape that demonstrates how multiple uses can be managed and sustained for future generations.”
Energy development, fish and wildlife, and other resource values can co-exist. That’s the underlying philosophy of the HLR demonstration energy project.
Every other year B.A.S.S., that’s the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, hosts a conservation summit in conjunction with the Bassmaster Classic. While the Classic is the nation’s premier bass fishing competition, the summit is the premier gathering of conservation leaders from the bass fishing community. This year was no exception.
Nearly 100 state fisheries chiefs and state-based volunteer B.A.S.S. Nation conservation directors convened in Birmingham, Ala., last month to discuss conservation topics including invasive species, state and federal legislation affecting fishery resources and grant opportunities for conservation projects.
The TRCP was there as well, sponsoring a special discussion during the summit on the importance of water quality to successful bass fishing. The topic was especially relevant because the federal government is poised to release an administrative rule any day now clarifying where the unique safeguards provided by the Clean Water Act apply to important bass fisheries.
B.A.S.S. has been a great champion of this issue, because without quality water supplies we can’t have successful bass fishing, and the Clean Water Act is the most successful and powerful tool we have to keep pollutants out of our water.
Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, which is one of the two agencies proposing the Clean Water Act rule (the other is the Army Corps of Engineers), delivered recorded remarks at the conservation summit.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy addresses the 2014 B.A.S.S. Conservation Summit at the Bassmaster Classic about the need to protect wetlands, streams and rivers so we can sustain our nation’s hunting and angling heritage.
In addition, Ken Kopocis, policy advisor in EPA’s Office of Water, spoke to the group about the importance of clean water and the need for a rule that makes the Clean Water Act work effectively.
Mr. Kopocis’s most important message to summit participants? The draft rule won’t be perfect when it is released for public input. Bass fishermen – and sportsmen of all stripes – will have valuable advice for how to improve the rule, and the EPA will want to hear it – and needs to hear it!
This is a once-in-a-generation chance to restore Clean Water Act protections to waters sportsmen care about the most. As such, the TRCP will be facilitating sportsmen comments on the rule after it is released.
In the meantime, sign up to receive important updates about the development of the rule and notices about how to participate in the public comment process.
Yesterday morning, I happened to be talking with another avid recreational fisherman about the presence of toxic elements and chemicals in some of the fish that anglers like to catch and a lot of people like to eat. The discussion centered on striped bass and the health warning posted in just about every Atlantic coastal state, with the exception of Massachusetts, where migratory striped bass and bluefish are caught.
Then, out of the blue, comes an email press release that the Food & Drug Administration is being sued because it has failed to respond to a petition filed in 2011 that requested (1) informational labeling on packaged seafood that reflects the joint recommendations of the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency in their online advisory; (2) consumption recommendations at the point of sale of unpackaged, fresh seafood, presented in a user friendly format; and (3) informational mercury level and consumption limit labeling on packaging or at the point of sale for seafood species with moderate or high mercury content that are not otherwise listed in the online advisory.
Bingo! So the two of us having the discussion are not the only ones wondering why there is not more public awareness of this problem and why there are not more comprehensive requirements for making the public aware.
In my case, it is probably too late to worry about this problem. But I have four grandchildren, and they are likely to be impacted by their consumption of some fish. My children should be given the information that will allow them to make the right decisions for their children. Studies have shown that methylmercury, which occurs when airborne mercury is saturated in water, is a neurotoxin that leads to learning disabilities, lowered IQ, and impaired cognitive and nervous system functioning. Studies also have shown that PCBs have a known neuropsychological effect in children and can cause an elevated risk of cancer. Both of these contaminants bio-accumulate, primarily in fatty tissue. A copy of the study can be found here and Maine’s recommendations for stripped bass and bluefish consumption from the Atlantic coastal states are found below.
So, here we have a fairly comprehensive study of contaminants in fish and the potential hazards to the sensitive group, which consists of women of child-bearing age as well as young women and children. That group is advised by this study to consume from one meal a month to zero consumption. Others are advised to consume no more than one meal a month – not exactly an endorsement for eating seafood.
Virtually every state from the Mid-Atlantic to Maine has posted these warnings except for the state of Massachusetts. Why, I cannot find out. It may have to do as much with the workings of state bureaucracy as any other possibility. Some think that this has been done to protect the commercial striped bass fishery. I don’t know, but I do know is that it is not protecting the general public. There may be some reasoning by state health officials that they do not post the health warning. That has to do with the testing methodology. Methylmercury bio-accumulates in the fatty tissue. In some testing methods the entire fish is ground up, and the testing is done on that. This gives a lower reading of the toxic contaminants than if the test had been done solely on the part of the fish normally consumed.
It still seems strange to me that almost all the coastal Atlantic states have some level of warning about consumption of bluefish and striped bass. Most of the states in the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission took part in the study workgroup, in which Massachusetts had three participants. All of the New England states except Massachusetts since have posted health warnings about consumption of these fish. It seems odd to me that when fish cross the imaginary state line into Massachusetts waters they somehow become cleansed. Could be, ya know! There have been other Massachusetts Miracles. And if you believe that…!
Rules clarified for Florida snapper and tilefish take
You gotta love it when fishery managers admit they messed up and go back to doing the right thing.
That’s why, as of March 13, charter captains and crews in Florida will be allowed to keep their recreational bag limits of vermilion snapper, groupers and golden tilefish in state waters of the Atlantic, including all of the Florida Keys.
Here’s the back story: In 2009, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council wanted to reduce the number of gag groupers and vermilion snappers kept by recreational anglers in federal and state waters of the Atlantic Ocean to help increase those fish populations. In addition to closed seasons, the council prohibited captains and crews of charter boats from keeping their recreational limits of vermilions. They also weren’t allowed to keep any groupers and tilefish, in the hopes of preventing bycatch of gag groupers. But captains and crew could keep their recreational limits of fish such as dolphin and other snappers, which led to confusion.
A year ago, the council voted to get rid of the rule. As of this past Jan. 27, captains and crew could keep their limits of vermilion snappers, groupers and tilefish in Atlantic federal waters. At its meeting last month in Tampa, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to eliminate the rule in Atlantic state waters, which means captains and crew can keep the recreational bag limit of all species of reef fish caught in those waters.
The reason for the change? The council said the decrease in the harvest of those species because of the rule was minimal. Plus, doing away with the rule eliminates confusion and will have a negligible effect on the populations of those species. More helpful was a five-month closed season for vermilion snapper. And there continues to be a four-month closed season for shallow water groupers, including gags, reds and blacks, the three most popular grouper species in Florida.
The vermilion snapper closure in Atlantic state and federal waters was Nov. 1-March 31. That closed season was eliminated because the closure worked and vermilion snapper populations had significantly increased. Lately, fishing for vermilion snappers and tilefish has been the best bet for South Florida anglers seeking to bring home fish for dinner. Fishing for sought-after species such as kingfish, cobia, wahoo, dolphin and tuna has been inconsistent at best.
Being deepwater fish, golden tilefish are quite tasty, and they are fairly easy to catch. They are typically targeted in 600-700 feet of water by dropping bait to the bottom using an electric fishing reel. When you get a bite, you flip the reel’s switch, and up comes the tilefish. Captains I know regretted not being able to provide their customers with more golden tilefish than their allotted one per person. Now they can make additional drops and provide one or two more fish to take home.
The vermilion snapper change definitely won’t make much of a difference, as the fish are almost exclusively caught by drift boats in 160-300 feet of water. The limit on vermilions is five per person, and allowing the captain and the mate to keep their 10 fish on a drift boat with 15 or more anglers would not be significant except, perhaps, to those anglers who didn’t catch anything and would like to go home with a couple of snapper fillets.
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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.