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March 31, 2014

Red snapper battle lines in the “Sportsman’s Paradise”

Louisiana-Sportsmans-Paradise
Photo courtesy of rongcheek.com.

You’d think that somebody living in Louisiana, the self-proclaimed “‘Sportsman’s Paradise,” would learn through the years that the word “sportsman” didn’t arrive in a dictionary because man was spearing fish or entrapping them with any ancient or modern device.

Yet, every time there’s a chance to comment publicly about the ongoing battle between recreational and commercial fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, especially when it comes to red snapper, the Louisiana Restaurant Association lines up squarely against recreational fishermen – the sportsmen living, working and spending money, sometimes in the restaurants that open their doors daily in the Sportsman’s Paradise.

The LRA is a powerful organization in Louisiana. It should be. Some of Louisiana’s restaurants are renowned worldwide: Chefs working in them produce culinary masterpieces mostly because of the rich blending that brought together so many unique ethnic cultures in one place – and also because our waters yield such a variety of marine creatures those ethnic groups could adapt for their tables.

How odd that, given Louisiana’s freshwater, brackish-water and saltwater bounty, battle lines have been drawn over one species – red snapper.

Yet that’s where the lines are drawn today.

Louisiana Sportsman Logo
Photo courtesy of shopsportsmanstore.com.

And it’s why I, someone who has for more than 60 years breathed our humid air, lived through dozens of hurricanes, watched millions of gallons of oil gush from an underwater well, and witnessed the greatest wetlands loss in our nation’s history, despise the more than 20-year fight over this one species, the red snapper.

I grew up during the years when recreational and commercial fishermen drew on our bountiful waters with a certain respect for each other.

That’s not the case today – not with the recent attacks on the allocation and re-allocation of Gulf of Mexico red snapper.

Most years the annual Gulf red snapper quota is 9.12 million pounds, divided 51 percent for commercial anglers and 49 percent for the tens of thousands of recreational anglers living in the five Gulf states.

For the last five or six years, the commercials and the LRA decried data that show the recreational take has exceeded its 49 percent.

But the question today is “How factual is that data?” The question arises because, by its own admission, National Marine Fisheries Service, as well as the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, cannot accurately count the recreational take.

You don’t have to be a theoretical mathematician to look at the statistical model used to quantify the recreational take to know it’s flawed.

For instance, Louisiana’s estimated annual recreational catch is somewhere in the 600,000-pound neighborhood, according to the NMFS, but the model used to produce that number has a wide variation – one that would result in the recreational estimate being as low as 300,000 pounds or closer to 900,000 pounds.

You see the problem. This is why recreationals here, especially with more and more red snapper showing up off the Louisiana coast, don’t understand why the LRA’s comments in Gulf Council hearings call for more recreational restrictions, that any increase in recreational catch puts severe limitations on members’ ability to make money in their establishments.

In those meetings, I’ve heard on three occasions that as much as 80 percent of the commercial red snapper harvest is shipped out of the country. Those comments, too, leave the recreational side scratching its head over the LRA claim that more fish would help their bottom line and provide fish to Midwest markets.

Sportsman Paradise Sign
Photo courtesy of John L.H./Yelp.com.

There is some truth in the LRA protest: Red snapper is a wonderful fish to eat, but in Louisiana there’s so much more than red snapper, and because there is so much more, we don’t have to worry about the downward spiral of blue crabs closing the doors of diners in Maryland or the collapse of the cod stocks shutting down Northeast fish-n-chips shops.

Our state’s epicurean history has drawn on so much more that we don’t need to fight about one species, not when it’s selling in our local fish markets for more than $20 a pound, a price that’s too rich for my blood.

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Chris Macaluso

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posted in: General

March 25, 2014

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

RSVP to Lauren Dunn, National Marine Manufacturers Association, at ldunn@nmma.org; or Mary Jane Williamson, American Sportfishing Association, at mjwilliamson@asafishing.org.

Ed Arnett

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March 24, 2014

Conservation leaders meet to learn about responsible energy development

TRCP High Lonesome Ranch Reception
Attendees at the 79th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference enjoyed food and beverages as they learned about the TRCP-High Lonesome Ranch model energy project at a TRCP-sponsored reception on March 13 in Denver, Colo. Photo by Ed Arnett.

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.”

High Lonesome Ranch, undeveloped ridges, mule deer habitat.
Undeveloped ridges providing important habitat for mule deer, sage grouse and other wildlife would be protected as part of The High Lonesome Ranch project. Photo by Steve Belinda.

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.

Find out more about the project.

Read about the energy and stakeholder’s values of the project.

Read more about the project’s impact on sage grouse conservation.

Find out more about the TRCP-HLR demonstration energy project here or contact Ed Arnett, director of TRCP’s Center for Responsible Energy Development (earnett@trcp.org).

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March 20, 2014

Washington, D.C., goes to the Bassmaster Classic

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.

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March 18, 2014

Toxin talk

Mercury in seafood food chain
Mercury in seafood food chain. Image courtesy of Bretwood Higman, Ground Truth Trekking/Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Striped bass and bluefish consumption advisory, Atlantic states
Figure from the Interstate Workgroup report indicating recommendations for striped bass and bluefish consumption. Figure courtesy of Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

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…!

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