Kristyn Brady

March 8, 2019

Third-Party Certification Puts a Blue Ribbon on Depletion of Critical Striped Bass Food Source

It is negligent to certify Omega Protein’s menhaden purse-seining operation as sustainable when striped bass populations are in decline

The Marine Stewardship Council, a private international institution, has determined it will grant a certification of sustainability to Omega Protein Corporation for its U.S. Atlantic menhaden purse-seining operations, despite the fact that the industrial harvest of these important forage fish depletes the east coast’s striped bass population.

Menhaden are small, oily baitfish that form the base of the Atlantic food chain, supporting every marine sportfish from stripers and bluefish to tarpon and sharks. As filter feeders, they also benefit water quality in places like the Chesapeake Bay.

Reduction fishing—where menhaden are caught in giant nets and then “reduced” for meal, fish food, and other products—was once common on the east coast, but it is now banned in every state except Virginia because of the destructive nature of the fishery. Today, a single company, Omega Protein, accounts for 80 percent of the coastwide catch of menhaden, and this level of harvest could be responsible for as much as a 30-percent reduction in striped bass, the nation’s largest marine recreational fishery.

“This week’s announcement from MSC puts a blue ribbon on the last holdout of an antiquated and harmful reduction fishing industry,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This certification ignores what’s really happening to east coast sportfish, which rely on menhaden for survival and support a thriving recreational fishing economy. You cannot mine the base of the food chain and not expect it to affect every species that depend on those fish.”

MSC’s published assessment makes it clear that the certification is conditional, meaning that Omega has to meet certain milestones over the next four years—they have not met these milestones yet. Omega Protein has strongly opposed conservation measures, including current catch limits in the Chesapeake Bay.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the federal and state governing body charged with managing menhaden, is developing a management model where it considers the fish’s role in the entire ecosystem and the impact of menhaden harvest on other species. Until these updates are complete, it is too soon to make a ruling on the sustainability of commercial menhaden harvest.

“It is negligent to call Omega’s operations sustainable now on the condition that the company meets certain milestones in the future, especially considering the important changes that fisheries managers are committed to making,” says Fosburgh. “This is actually about the foreign-owned company’s willingness to pay for a certification as a PR boost. It won’t fool America’s anglers, and we plan to formally object through the appropriate channels.”

The TRCP is calling on sportsmen and women to sign this open letter to MSC opposing the certification.

Learn more about the menhaden’s role in supporting sportfishing opportunities.

21 Responses to “Third-Party Certification Puts a Blue Ribbon on Depletion of Critical Striped Bass Food Source”

  1. Thomas Doyle

    With the Presidents and his staff pushing deregulation every group associated with doing what they want is doing what they want. We experienced this in Michigan with a commercial fish farm that was open in a facility operating with 19th century technology. It cost local conservation groups several hundred thousand dollars to finally shut it down.
    The company had convinced the legislature that they were creating jobs which in reality would only added 2.5 jobs however what they were doin would eventually result hundreds of jobs lost in addition the lost tax revenue to the area.
    Who is performing the impact study to prove or disprove the statements? How is the reduction in stride bass population being determined.
    We can’t just raise our hands and say this wrong these days, the evidence must be as clear as the nose on the Presidents face and the director of the EPA.
    Every member of congress from Maine to Florida needs to be flooded with emails and phone calls. There also needs to be evidence of lost revenue from the loss of sports fishing. This would everything from bait shops to hotels and restaurants.

  2. Bliss Grey

    So you are saying this certification gives them 4 years to do something that is already having a negative impact on the environment, and wildlife that depend on that environment.
    Four years to continue to break the MSC Principle 2: Environmental impact of fishing
    Fishing operations should allow for the maintenance of the structure, productivity, function and diversity of the
    ecosystem (including habitat and associated dependent and ecologically related species) on which the fishery
    depends.
    This sort of thinking has been our problem for decades. This mindset allows companies to destroy our environment for their own profit.

  3. Walt Taylor

    Omega is based out of Reedville Virginia and keeps that town afloat. The townsfolk consider any criticism from “come heres “ unwelcome even though Mr Reed was a “come here”. The townsfolk have the attitude that most of the Maryland and Virginia waterman have — a “leave us alone we know what we are doing” parochialism.
    Keep up the good work but be careful with these folk.
    Regards and good luck.

  4. I’ve watched the slick promotion videos for another company, Physio Tru, promoting Omega 3 Fatty acids: EPA, DHA and DPA, claiming menhaden are a “waste” fish. These companies have to be held accountable, or better yet, shut down.

  5. At 67 years of age I have personally witnessed the the depletion of fishing stocks. If this is not altered drastically we will be lucky to find an occasional sea robin or dog fish on your line, and be thrilled to catch that. I remember catching cod, whiting, ling cod, fluke ,stripers ,and bluefish,in abundance. While never keeping fish to excess, we rarely ever went home empty. If we can’t use our resources responsibly, then we won’t fish or hunt at all.

  6. Brian Nichols

    The Atlantic States marine Fisheries Commission reports in Feb 2019 :”The preliminary results indicate 2017 female spawning stock biomass was 151 million pounds, below the SSB threshold of 202 million pounds, indicating the stock is overfished. ” With that recent data in hand it is ludicrous that a prime Striped bass food source be allowed to be exploited.

  7. Dr. Greg Thompson

    Certainly the scientific evidence and common sense direct us to conserve our Atlantic coast resource population of nursery baitfish (mendaden). Our fisheries are stressed and in a phase of managed recovery. Harvesting this critical resource would seem to put the entire fishery at risk to profit an unsustainable and closely held industry. We can certainly source quality omega fatty acids and fertilizers elsewhere. The jobs created are not worth the potential damage.

  8. Amazing to think a London based group can certify a Canadian Company- Cooke Industries (owner of Omega Protein ) to overfish US waters using very liberal standards for a fee from the fisheries they oversee! Criminal

  9. Turn the tables on those promoting these products. Social media is a double edged sword. Use it to call out those on K Street that lobby for these companies and the TV talking heads that get paid to push these products. I’m knocking on the door of 70 and fished for stripers and blues from the Bay to the Sound (always catch and release). These magnificent fish should be enjoyed by all future generations of outdoors men and women. Back in the day, there was a singer song-writer by the name of Joni Mitchell who did a song about ‘you don’t know what you got until it’s gone’. I hope this does not apply to this group of fish. We called the menhaden, bunker. It seems that far to much of the peoples natural resources are going to foreign countries. If you want a rush, fly fish for Blues and Stripers. We tied flies to look like sand ells.

  10. After 40 years owning my own charter fishing business I had to retire. You can’t take the public on a charter and not produce a catch for them. Retired in 2012 after seeing our fish stocks plummet to an all time low. Still nothing being done.

Do you have any thoughts on this post?

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Kristyn Brady

March 1, 2019

Hunting and Fishing Groups Ask PA Lawmakers Not to Divert Conservation Funding

Benefits to water quality, sportsmen’s access, and abandoned mine reclamation would be lost if funds were redirected to government operations

This week, leading local and national sportsmen’s groups shared major concerns about the proposed budget for the Environmental Stewardship Fund and Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund.

In a letter to state lawmakers, 11 organizations from across the hunting and fishing community wrote: “We value the projects funded by these programs that restore fish and wildlife habitat, improve sportsmen’s access to streams and forests, and enhance the conservation efforts of the Commonwealth’s independent fish and game agencies. We are dismayed that the Governor’s budget proposal would redirect much-needed resources from the ESF and the Keystone Fund in order to pay for state government operations in the coming fiscal year.”

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has called on Pennsylvania hunters and anglers to support increased funding for the Environmental Stewardship Fund. In a recent poll, the TRCP found that four in five PA sportsmen and women support fully funding the program to restore watersheds, clean up abandoned mines, and more.

Read the full letter here.

Kristyn Brady

February 13, 2019

Q&A: Meet a Texan Who Is Helping to Open New Public Lands on the Gulf Coast

Callie Easterly’s work at The Conservation Fund is helping to expand hunting and fishing access on a national wildlife refuge by more than 12,000 acres—read the latest Q&A in our Women Conservationist Wednesday series

We love talking to women in the conservation workforce who are very clearly forces of nature themselves. Callie Easterly, a native Texan and the senior major gifts officer at The Conservation Fund, is no exception.

Forget for just a moment that she runs an incredible hunting lodge for the organization, hosting small parties of waterfowl hunters to showcase the benefits of wetland restoration projects. Now consider that in the span of eight years she went from receptionist to executive director of a nonprofit focused on getting inner city kids outdoors and in touch with their food. That’s before she helped build a sustainable grazing program on conserved lands in the unique Gulf coastal grasslands of Texas.

But back to that hunting lodge. It’s on the 12,376-acre Sabine Ranch, which will soon be added to McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge as public land open to hunting, fishing, hiking and birdwatching. And Callie helped raise the more than $30 million needed to piece the original ranch back together and convey the land to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Her story is so compelling, it’s no wonder she can convince people to open their wallets for conservation. She shares a little bit of that story with us here.

TRCP: How were you introduced to the outdoors?

CALLIE EASTERLY: I grew up in a small town outside Houston with a lot of rice farms, and I started hunting deer with my dad on the Thanksgiving holidays. Our local grocery store offered these individual meat lockers to store your venison, and we basically lived off what we harvested. I shot my first deer when I was 9 years old and totally got the bug.

For a while, I lived in Seattle and did more fishing, but when I came back to Texas and met my husband—he’s an avid outdoorsman—I really got back into hunting. And I was able to marry it with my lifelong interest in gardening and knowing exactly where my food comes from.

TRCP: And what led you to work in conservation?

EASTERLY: It started out as kind of a fluke. I was working with adults with disabilities and interpreting sign language, and I loved being able to help people communicate, but I really felt like I was missing out on sharing this growing passion I had for gardening and food security. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to do it, but I quit my job and ended up working as a receptionist for a Houston nonprofit called Urban Harvest, which builds gardens at inner city schools and takes kids into the outdoor classroom to learn about nutrition.

After only a few weeks, their fundraising person quit and they needed someone to write a grant application—so I tried it. We got the grant and things just took off from there. By the end of my eight years there, I had become executive director and was meeting a lot of inspiring people in the food movement.

Eventually, I wanted to do more with sustainable agriculture, and I got the opportunity to go back to my roots—literally my hometown of Katy, Texas—and work for the Katy Prairie Conservancy. One of the preserves is a working cattle ranch, where I was able to build a program that uses cattle as a land management tool for the benefit of other wildlife and water quality. And when I got the call from The Conservation Fund, I’d been consulting for a number of organizations on how to harness those Gulf oil spill recovery dollars to improve wildlife habitat and shellfish populations. So, it’s been a slow growth into my role at Sabine Ranch today.

TRCP: So, why take people hunting to get them support the project?

EASTERLY: I think it helps to highlight hunting and conservation as a nice marriage of ideals. Actually bringing guests out into this fantastic waterfowl habitat to do something they enjoy helps them understand what we’re doing and why expanding the refuge is such a big win for Texas.

The habitat is unbelievable. The ranch is a key part of the largest contiguous marsh system in Texas, which buffers inland communities from saltwater intrusion and sends freshwater flows to the rest of the refuge. When The Conservation Fund purchased the land, it had been managed to almost pristine condition by the previous owner, and here’s how we could tell: Just three weeks after Hurricane Harvey in 2017, this land was bone dry. The wetlands were working exactly like they are supposed to, filtering stormwater and pushing it out to the Gulf cleaner than it was before.

I believe every problem in the world can be solved with education, and taking people on an epic hunt rarely fails to make people feel like we’re all in this together. The hunt itself is really fun, but it’s also a palatable introduction to conservation for many people.

TRCP: How do you think we can do a better job, as conservationists?

EASTERLY: We need to tell better stories. We need to broaden our target audience and, as nonprofits, be more accepting of smaller gifts—we’ll meet more potential champions in the process. I talk to young people and see what resonates with them. I might practice a pitch with a friend who doesn’t hunt and just watch for the moment they raise their eyebrows.

For a long time, the environmental movement has meant “no, no, no.” That “no” has alienated a lot of folks. We have to say “yes” sometimes. Cities have to grow, so we explain why some places should be conserved. You illustrate how the health of habitat and wildlife is connected to the health of cities. We paved over some prairies and now there are no geese; there’s no hunting. Houston didn’t grow up, it grew out—we paved over wetlands and now we’re flooding. You explain that it’s hard to go back.

TRCP: So many women are taking up hunting in adulthood because of their interest in knowing where their food comes from. How can a beginner find the confidence to get outside on her own and just go for it?

EASTERLY: I’ve felt that lack of confidence, too—you have to give yourself over to it and allow yourself to make mistakes. You’ll miss. You’ll use the wrong fly. It’s trial and error. The moments you improvise because you forgot some gear or fall in and get soaking wet are going to be the most memorable anyway.

I don’t know how we tell ourselves it’s OK to fail. All I know is that sometimes you’re in the marsh getting eaten alive by bugs, and you’re calling and calling and nothing comes in. It’s not your spread, there’s just no ducks. It won’t be the most epic experience every time.

So, focus on the camaraderie of being up before dawn, passing a thermos of coffee around, being cold and sleepy together, telling stories, and watching the sun rise with friends. You can’t force the perfect hunt. In the morning, when you’re excited about the mere possibility of what the day may hold—make that feeling endless.

 

Photos by Shannon Tompkins

Isaac Leuthold

February 1, 2019

25 States Took Additional Steps to Fight Chronic Wasting Disease in the Past Year

It’s up to hunters to comply with new regulations on moving deer carcasses and using mineral lures—but it’s worth it to stop the spread of CWD

The Boone & Crockett Club, North America’s oldest wildlife and habitat conservation organization founded by Theodore Roosevelt himself, recently made a bold recommendation to end all human-assisted live transport of deer and elk. Based on the most recent science, B&C said this is absolutely necessary to prevent unknowingly relocating animals infected with chronic wasting disease. Without a practical test for CWD in live animals, the risk is just too great, especially when you consider the rapid spread of the disease in recent years.

CWD has made headline news in the past 12 months—either because the disease has spread or because new regulations are being rolled out to slow the epidemic. We recently counted seven states where chronic wasting disease has deepened its grip since the fall 2018 opener. And we collected news stories from 25 states in the past year that have asked hunters or deer farms to follow new rules meant to control the disease.

Here’s what this means for your hunting.


You May Not Be Able to Bring Deer Carcasses Across State Lines

The recent wave of enhanced regulations leaves only a few states without some kind of official ban on transporting deer carcasses. If moving live deer and elk is too great a risk, many hunters probably recognize that we move just as many dead deer before testing them for CWD.

As a result, 16 states have made recent changes to prevent hunters from bringing home parts of deer harvested in CWD-positive states—or anywhere outside state lines. For a full look at import bans across the country see the map below.

 

For example, in Oklahoma, where hunters contribute $680 million annually to the state’s economy, the Department of Wildlife has proposed new rules dealing with the import, transportation, or possession of deer carcasses and live deer. The state is surrounded by CWD-positive areas in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas.

The Carolinas now have strict guidelines on which parts of deer, moose, and elk can be brought home. Their neighbor Tennessee discovered its first CWD-positive deer in 2018.

And Kentucky recently expanded its ban on deer imports to include all U.S. states—regardless of whether CWD has been detected there. Policies like this often link strongly to two factors: the long “incubation” period of the disease and the general lack of research on all the ways it spreads.

At issue are the “high-risk” parts of the deer, which house the animal’s central nervous system. This is where CWD prions would be highly concentrated. Some states, like Kansas, have opted to educate hunters and urge them not to transport anything but deboned meat, cleaned skulls, finished taxidermy, or tanned hides—but stop short of regulating the practice.

Now it’s on sportsmen and women to step up on our own.

CWD Testing May Not Be Optional

Hunters voluntarily submitting deer samples has been the backbone of many CWD surveillance efforts for years. The disease has become such a concern, though, that some states have implemented mandatory testing in vulnerable or infected areas. In designated areas, hunters are required to submit a high-risk part, like the lymph nodes, for testing by the state wildlife agency.

This is part of what Indiana is preparing to do in the event that CWD spreads from either Illinois or Michigan. Mandatory testing and culling deer in infected areas are key parts of the state’s CWD response plan. But those measures, especially mass culling, comes with a steep price: The economic impact of lost hunting opportunities is a major concern for the state’s $15.7-billion outdoor recreation industry.

With wildlife managers still gathering samples in Tennessee’s new outbreak area, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has expanded its surveillance efforts. More harvested deer are being sampled and tested in counties bordering Mississippi and Tenn, but there have been no positive cases of CWD in Alabama, so far.

Deer Farms Will Be Under Increased Scrutiny

Deer farm restrictions are being considered by more states as the managers of our wild herds work to keep the captive deer industry accountable. Minnesota, New York, Tennessee, and Wisconsin all took up proposals or instituted new restrictions on captive deer farms in 2018.

In Minnesota, legislation has been proposed that would increase the containment requirements for captive deer farms. They are likely looking at neighboring Wisconsin, a stronghold for both the disease and the deer farming industry, and hoping to avoid the same fate.

Expect Broad Changes in the Coming Years

After the year CWD has had, sportsmen and women should expect that this disease will change the way we hunt. But there’s still time to adapt to relatively small concessions—whether it’s mandatory testing, restrictions on certain lures, or extra time in the woods to prepare your harvested animal for safe transport—to help control this epidemic.

The stakes are high, and how we respond could mean the difference between carrying on our deer hunting traditions and watching the decline of our wild deer herds.

 

Top photo by Michigan DNR via flickr

Steve Kline

January 31, 2019

Science, Not Politics, Should Guide Management of Menhaden

Virginia should do the right thing and let experts guide the future of bunker

Hunting and fishing traditions have deep roots in Virginia—residents have a constitutional right to hunt, and more than 800,000 anglers a year turn out to fish the same waters that George Washington did. But Virginia is also the only state along the Eastern Seaboard that still allows the commercial reduction fishing of Atlantic menhaden, a critical forage fish.

The last holdout of an antiquated fishing industry, reduction fishing of menhaden—or bunker, as you’ll often hear them called on docks around the Chesapeake—involves the harvest of billions of tiny fish that are then reduced to meal and oil for use in a variety of applications, from food for farmed salmon to cosmetics.

There may be many uses for menhaden outside the water, but their real economic and ecological value comes from keeping them in the water.

Atlantic menhaden comprise the very foundation of a diverse ecosystem, which includes some of the most popular gamefish species in the world. From a fisheries management standpoint, it doesn’t get any simpler than this: Fewer menhaden in the water means fewer striped bass, bluefish, cobia, redfish, and weakfish. And that means the potential collapse of a recreational fishing economy worth far more than any reduction fishery.

However, as the sea fog recedes, it becomes clear why Virginia allows this practice to continue.

The commonwealth manages menhaden not through its science-based Virginia Marine Resources Commission, but rather through its state legislature. It begs the question, if the commission is good enough to manage all the other marine fish stocks in the state, both recreational and commercial, why isn’t it being permitted to do its job when it comes to menhaden?

It’s clear to us that Virginia should not allow this reduction fishery to continue while risking the future of the state’s recreational fishing economy. State legislatures are no place to manage species, and if the Marine Resources Commission is good enough to manage striped bass, they ought to be managing what stripers eat, too.

Science should always guide fisheries management decisions to the greatest extent possible. It’s not realistic to take the politics out of the equation completely, but the state of Virginia needs to stop letting politics be the only guiding force in the management of menhaden.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?

The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

Learn More
Subscribe

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!