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posted in: General

June 10, 2014

Little Fish, Big Impact

River herring. Photo courtesy of Jerry Prezioso/NOAA.gov.

There has been a lot of news on the fishing-related websites and blogs recently about forage fish, primarily herring and menhaden. Truthfully, a complete discussion on forage would encompass a much wider range of species, but I think that I’ll at least narrow it down to the major ones.

Herring, specifically river herring, should be a hot topic. It is that time of year when town Herring Wardens get to see what has come back to rivers in towns all along the New England coast. Word has it that a bunch of rivers are looking good. They’re not where they should be but a heck of a lot better than they have been in the last few years. Some of this is due to in-stream restoration projects that now are paying off, and some is due to efforts to minimize the high seas interaction with sea herring caught by so-called mid-water trawling, both single vessel and pair trawling.

The in-stream work is fairly easy to measure. Restore the habitat in the watershed or rebuild or create fish ladder access to spawning grounds, wait a couple of years, and count the increase. These are very prolific spawners that grow relatively quickly, so gratification, while not instant, is pretty darn quick.

The at-sea interaction is a lot harder to measure for a number of reasons, but the main one is the sheer volume of fish caught in the sea herring fishery. It is fairly normal to have 200,000 pounds of herring and whatever else in a net. The volume is so great as to require that the contents are vacuumed out into the boat’s fish hold. An onboard observer may pull samples of a tote at certain points in the transfer process. If they pull a total of 100 pounds, there is a one in 2,000 chance that they will see any bycatch such as river herring. Those are not good odds. In some cases, even if they do get some in the sample, only a trained eye can distinguish the difference in herring species. In sum: it is likely that managers still do not have a good handle on the actual catch of river herring on the high seas. If the truth be told, there probably is not a good handle on bycatch in general in the northeast sea herring fishery. The New England Fishery Management Council has been working on it, but it has been a hard slog.

A lot of in-stream work still needs to be accomplished, but that will be a function of funding and some hardworking local folks to pull it all together. As mentioned above, that work can be very satisfying as the results are relatively quick and easily visible. In the spring, herring runs usually attract a lot of excited visitors, so positive feedback and PR help the process.

River herring
Image courtesy of NOAA.gov.

Sea herring seem to be managed fairly well, and their spawning success is predicated upon the environmental conditions at spawning time and the ability of managers to control access to spawning aggregations of sea herring. No matter how well managers do, there will always be fluctuations in the population. The major consideration of scientists that advise the managers on setting catch levels should be leaving enough resource for predators such as tuna, striped bass, whales, cod fish, etc. to feed on.

When I was on the NEFMC, there was an effort to put in place a measure to weigh all sea herring so that managers could get a realistic handle on what amount was being caught. Managers were using guesstimations, and in my opinion that is not good enough. NOAA’s regional office rejected that effort as being too onerous. Funny that 125 million pounds of lobster all get weighed in the state of Maine, and that is not considered onerous. It is considered smart business. In any case, a recent action may put in place at least a volumetric measure requirement.

As for menhaden, most of the catch of this forage species is in the Mid Atlantic. There have not been any major migrations of menhaden, like we used to see in the 1980s, north of Cape Cod for a number of years. I keep hoping that there will be, as they bring a whole host of predators that like to feed on them.

Some steps have been implemented by the ASMFC to control the harvest of menhaden. For 2013 there was a 20-percent reduction over the average catch for 2009-2011. The biggest issue has been how this has been enforced, or not enforced, by different states. Rhode Island was 7 percent over. New York was 421 percent over. Delaware was 234 percent over. Maryland 34 percent over. The Potomac River Fisheries Commission was 41 percent over. Florida was 152 percent over. Because some states with decent sized quotas were under, the total quota was just about on target at 2 percent under. A long list of folks will be pushing for a fair and equitable enforcement policy to be put in place. There also should be measures that do not allow states like Maryland to have a bycatch fishery after the quota is taken.

What I am not aware of is whether the catch is weighed or volumetric conversion to weight. That may vary state to state. We will have to see what the reduction does for overall populations in the next couple of years. It would certainly be great to get back to the 80s when massive schools moved all the way up into mid coast Maine. There were a lot of happy predators and a lot of happy anglers.

It should be obvious, but sustainably managing forage species has implications far beyond the fish themselves. If managers allow forage stocks to collapse, many other species will follow. Luckily, folks are paying attention, and it seems like things are moving in a positive direction.

One Response to “Little Fish, Big Impact”

  1. Joe G.

    Rip,
    I loved the article. I lament sadly the lack of common sense and good guidance by the ASMFC. The commission has been so CLEARLY in the pocket of the commercial interests for SO long it’s a wonder that there are ANY fish left at all! Even the fisherman, closest to the resource and perhaps the biggest part of the problem, refuse to see that despite the shrinking catches they are partly to blame. It’s like saying that humans have NO part in warming the planet. It seems like nobody is willing to accept responsibility for their actions.

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posted in: General

June 3, 2014

Conservation Dollars Are Being Burned

Wildfire in the Pacific Northwest
Photo courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

Wildfires are becoming an escalating threat in the Western United States. With each passing year, wildfires are increasing in frequency, burning more acres and proving more costly to suppress. Despite the escalation of wildfires and wildfire-associated damage, however, very little has been done to assist the Forest Service in its efforts to pay for wildfire suppression and prevention. Suppression costs are responsible for more of the Forest Service budget each year, forcing cuts to programs vital to conservation, forestry management and sportsmen.

Why is this happening?

A combination of factors is responsible for the increase in frequency and severity of wildfires, the most important of which is climate change. Higher temperatures across the United States make America’s forests drier through increased evaporation rates, decreased precipitation and subsequent drought. As a result, the fire season is two-and-a-half months longer now than in the 1970s. It’s very simple: drier forests are simply more likely to catch on fire.

A decrease in proper forestry management practices plays a role, as well. Ironically enough, this in part results from the increasing costs associated with wildfire suppression. Because suppression and prevention dollars come from the same budget, money used to suppress wildfires means fewer dollars available to prevent them. Suppression costs accounted for 13 percent of the Forest Service budget in 1991 but have risen to 47 percent in 2012, leaving very little left to engage in programs vital to fire prevention.

>>Check out The TRCP’s infographic on the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act here.<<

What needs to change?

Before suppression costs consumed nearly half of the Forest Service budget, the agency could afford to implement a variety of forestry management programs proven to mitigate the risk of wildfires, such as hazardous fuels reduction. A healthy, properly managed forest is far less likely to burn catastrophically.

Another important factor in the increased costs of firefighting has to do with the “Wildland Urban Interface (WUI).” This refers to development along areas prone to wildfires. The proximity between manmade structures and such areas has increased as development increases along national parks and other wild areas, forcing the Forest Service to prioritize property protection in its fire suppression and prevention activities.

How are conservation dollars being burned?
Click the image for the full infographic

But in recent years, the increase in wildfire frequency and longer fire seasons, combined with the higher costs associated with fighting fire in the WUI, has forced the Forest Service to annually engage in “fire borrowing” to pay for suppression – meaning it must take dollars from other forestry management programs to pay for the debilitating costs associated with putting out wildfires.

Why should this matter to sportsmen?

Without budgetary reform, the Forest Service cannot afford to put out wildfires and effectively engage in forestry management at an appropriate scale. This means that forests across the United States will become less healthy and more prone to catastrophic fire. As a result, forests and habitat will suffer, affecting people and wildlife throughout the United States.

How can sportsmen help fix this problem?

The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (H.R. 167 and S. 235), a bill introduced in both the House and Senate, would put an end to the problem of fire borrowing – and do it without increasing federal spending. For budgetary purposes, the legislation would classify the most extreme wildfires as natural disasters, a designation previously reserved for tornadoes, hurricanes and flash floods. This would allow the suppression costs for America’s largest and most expensive wildfires to be paid using federal emergency dollars. While the Forest Service still would be responsible for suppressing wildfires, the money to do so would be drawn from another, more appropriate source.

This simple yet effective measure would permit hundreds of millions of dollars in the Forest Service budget to be used as Congress intended, allowing the agency to resume forestry management and fire prevention programs. If passed, this legislation would make America’s forests and wildlife habitat healthier while simultaneously mitigating the risk of future wildfires.

While the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act has received bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, more congressional support is needed to ensure its passage. If you care about the future of American hunting and fishing and your representatives are not signed onto this legislation please TAKE ACTION here and help make a difference.

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June 2, 2014

Five Ways to Celebrate National Fishing and Boating Week

NFBW Fishing Family
Image courtesy of Take Me Fishing.

June 1, 2014, kicks off the yearly, weeklong celebration known as National Fishing and Boating Week.  Each year during NFBW, boating and fishing organizations and enthusiasts alike work to extol the benefits of recreational boating and fishing on environmental preservation and quality of life.

Why should you choose boating and fishing?

  • De-stress: Boating is ranked as one of the top three of all stress-relieving activities
  • Connect with nature: 90 percent of Americans live within an hour of navigable water
  • Help conserve: The funds from your fishing licenses and boat registrations go toward the conservation of our natural aquatic areas

Want to go boating and fishing during NFBW? Here are some great ways to get started:

Try fishing for the first time. Many states offer free fishing days that coincide with NFBW. These days allow individuals to fish without having to purchase a fishing license. What better time to try out fishing than when it’s free? For a full list of states’ free fishing days, visit TakeMeFishing.org. Make sure to check out the “How to Fish” section on TakeMeFishing.org so you can learn all of the basics before you head out on the water.

Attend an event. Besides free fishing days, many states hold special events during NFBW. These events may include boat parades, fishing derbies, family festivals and how-to clinics. Head to the Events Page on TakeMeFishing.org to find events close to you.

Mentor a new angler or boater. Use the week as an opportunity to get someone new out on the water.  NFBW offers an excellent chance to mentor a new angler or boater and teach him or her the importance of the activities and their benefits both to the environment and the public. Teach them to hook their first fish and they may just be hooked for life.

Promote fishing and boating. Use NFBW as a way to show your friends and family how important fishing and boating is to you! On social media, you can use the #NFBW hashtag to tag your tweets, pictures and posts in celebration of National Fishing and Boating Week. You also can share photos of your big catch or your relaxing day on the boat with us by adding them to the Big Catch Photo Gallery.

Celebrate conservation. By simply participating in the activities of fishing and boating, you are helping to conserve your local and national waterways. A portion of every fishing license, boat registration and boating and fishing equipment sale goes toward keeping our waterways clean, safe and full of great fishing through the Sport Fish Restoration Program.

Want to find even more ways to get involved? Visit TakeMeFishing.org/nfbw for ideas.

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posted in: General

May 22, 2014

TAKE ACTION! – Promoting liberty through conservation

SPEAK UP for clean water for hunting and fishing.

What does clean water have to do with liberty? Over at Field & Stream, our friend Hal Herring has a fascinating piece answering this question. Perhaps taking inspiration from Theodore Roosevelt’s adage that “there can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country,” he argues that clean water is the investment we make in America, the dividend of which is the liberty to pursue our hunting and fishing passions. “[W]hen we fail to conserve” our natural resources, “and protect them from those who would do them harm…not only do we lose our fishing and hunting, we also endanger our prosperity and liberty.”

Hal’s article is worth reading in its entirety.

Rounding out the one-two punch from Field & Stream, Bob Marshall writes about an action you can take right now to ensure clean water for hunting and fishing and promote liberty. The Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency are taking public input on a proposal to clarify what federal safeguards are in place for water quality. With just a few mouse clicks, you can add your voice to the chorus calling for strong protections for headwater streams and wetlands.

Former Republican Congressman Sherwood Boehlert also highlighted the connection between clean water and liberty when he wrote an op-ed in favor of the Corps and EPA’s action, reminding us of a time when Republicans were leading the conservation movement. (Case in point: the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and EPA were all created under President Nixon.) Congressman Boehlert quotes President Reagan, who succinctly captured the importance of conservation to liberty:

“The preservation of parks, wilderness, and wildlife has also aided liberty by keeping alive the 19th century sense of adventure and awe with which our forefathers greeted the American West. Many laws protecting environmental quality have promoted liberty by securing property against the destructive trespass of pollution. In our own time, the nearly universal appreciation of these preserved landscapes, restored waters, and cleaner air through outdoor recreation is a modern expression of our freedom and leisure to enjoy the wonderful life that generations past have built for us.”  (emphasis added)

The TRCP and its partners have prepared fact sheets, videos and other information explaining the Corps and EPA’s proposal. Visit the “Sportsman’s Tackle Box for Understanding the Clean Water Act Rule” to learn more, then TAKE ACTION so that decision makers in Washington, D.C., know you want clean water for hunting and fishing.

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May 21, 2014

Attention all anglers

NOAA Rec Fisheries Summit
Image courtesy of NOAA.gov.

That’s what we are getting: more attention. That’s a good thing. More fisheries managers, bureaucrats and pols are hearing about recreational issues. That’s a great thing. Maybe the sleeping giant is waking up.

I have written about it in a past blog, but last fall the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, also known as the Morris-Deal Commission, began work on a report, “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries.”  That vision document was released during the Miami Boat Show and received a great deal of attention. And, yes, I realize that it did not universally make everyone in the recreational industry warm and fuzzy. The two biggest concerns I heard were that it did not represent the “average angler.” There was also a lot of angst about the apparent support for “flexibility” in effort to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which is the main federal legislation that manages fish. From my standpoint this is a valid concern and one that I personally share. However, I don’t think having the discussion is a bad thing. From my standpoint interested and engaged members of the recreational community need to have these kinds of hard discussions. I also feel that the vision should be a work in progress. The good news is it has already made some important folks in D.C. take notice.

Participants at NOAA Rec Fish Summit 2014
Participants at the 2014 Recreational Saltwater Fishing Summit. Image Courtesy of NOAA.gov.

The introduction of the report by the Morris-Deal Commission was followed by the second national Recreational Saltwater Fishing Summit held in Washington, D.C. This was described by one of the organizers at NOAA Fisheries “as taking down the walls, bringing in the community and working on solutions together.” It was an open forum, and folks came from all over the lower 48 and Alaska as well. Like the first summit, the second one was designed to have the stakeholders create and prioritize a list of projects and tasks for NOAA Fisheries to complete to help enhance the working relationship with and engagement of the recreational fishing industry and community. The first summit created an extensive action list, and NOAA Fisheries has completed about 90 percent of that list. It is currently digesting the output from the second summit. One item that was committed to at the summit itself was the creation of a national marine recreational fisheries policy. The plan on how this will be done is almost complete and is scheduled to be release this coming winter. There will be a series of outreach meetings to get recreational stakeholder input. There also will be an online survey available soon. I urge interested parties to make their thoughts known through one of the venues. As John Brownlee, editor in chief at Salt Water Sportsman, said in his keynote speech, “The work will begin when NOAA says yes.” So, get to work folks.

As this is written, I am finishing up the spring session of the Fisheries Forum, which is a collaborative effort of Duke University and Stanford. This forum was on recreational fishing issues. It has a lot of Regional Fisheries Management Council members and staff in attendance. It addressed some of the most problematic issues facing recreational management, not from a policy standpoint but from a process standpoint. Some of the output from this event can be found at FisheriesForum.org. Once again, this kind of effort keeps the recreational fishing industry and community front of mind with many of those making the important decision.

This is all good stuff. The worst thing that could happen would be to have this community ignored. The best is to have the management makers talking about you. I am reminded of James Michael Curley, infamous mayor of Boston, who said time and again, “I don’t care what they write about me. Just make sure they spell my name correctly.” Right on, Mr. Mayor.

Watch video coverage of the 2014 Recreational Saltwater Fishing Summit:

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