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Mining the base of the food chain is neither sustainable nor economically justifiable
Today, three recreational fishing groups filed a formal objection against the Marine Stewardship Council’s recommendation that Omega Protein should receive a certification of sustainability for its U.S. Atlantic menhaden purse-seining operations. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, American Sportfishing Association, and Coastal Conservation Association signed onto the objection, filed with MSC’s leaders in the United Kingdom.
The industrial harvest of this important forage fish by a single foreign-owned company, Cooke Inc.’s Omega Protein, has a negative impact on striped bass and other sportfish that rely on menhaden for food. Earlier this month, MSC—a private international organization, not a government entity—signaled that it would likely put its stamp of approval on Omega’s menhaden reduction fishing operation, in which the oily baitfish is harvested and reduced into meal, pet food, and other products.
MSC reached this conclusion in spite of the fact that menhaden stocks are less than half of what they would be without industrial harvest, which currently suppresses the striped bass stocks on the East Coast by about 30 percent. Striped bass are the single most valuable marine recreational fishery in the country.
“This certification would put a blue ribbon on the practice of robbing sportfish of their forage base, even as striped bass numbers decline in the Atlantic,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. His organization collaborated with a legal team to object to MSC’s findings and rallied individual anglers to sign an open letter opposing the certification. “We felt it was important to put pressure on MSC, in every venue possible, not to do this. It is irresponsible to call Omega’s operation sustainable when it affects striped bass numbers and the recreational fishing economy.”
MSC’s published assessment indicates that the certification of sustainability would be granted on the condition that Omega reach certain milestones over four years—not because the operation can be considered sustainable now. Sportfishing groups objected to the rationale behind two of these conditions and the MSC’s overall method of assessing the stock’s status.
“The MSC certification undermines ten years of work by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to establish ecosystem reference points for Atlantic menhaden, a process expected to be concluded in the next year,” says Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “For sportfishing businesses on the East Coast, the stakes are very high going into the striped bass season. Menhaden are an important food source for striped bass, and the latest striped bass stock assessment shows a continued decline in spawning stock biomass. This is the worst possible time for MSC to make a misstep like this.”
“In Maryland, anglers are concerned with the health and future outlook for many different recreational fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic coast, and menhaden are a major piece of the ecological foundation and balance in the region,” says David Sikorski, executive director of CCA Maryland. “This is why we anxiously await management options to be unveiled after nearly 20 years of conversation on how to manage these important fish for their role in the ecosystem. It would be negligent for MSC to hand out its certification just as the game is about to change.”
Top photo by Stephan Lowy
When there’s not enough bunker left in the water to support striped bass, can you really call commercial harvest of these forage fish sustainable?
Given the gravity of the EPA’s proposal on clean water protections, sportsmen and women need to speak up now
Often, we get to celebrate and take full advantage of the public’s significant role in shaping conservation policy. It’s something that makes our country, its one-of-a-kind natural resources, and the American system of public lands and waters very special.
When we ask you to take action for public lands, better water quality, or more investments in fish and wildlife habitat, it’s rare that we believe the odds are already stacked against conservation. Because when sportsmen and women unite, we tend to win.
But the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers are not doing hunters and anglers any favors in the public process of vetting their new rule for what waters deserve Clean Water Act protections. In just the latest chapter of the debate over what constitutes “Waters of the U.S.,” the agencies have given the public just 60 days to comment on a proposal that would eliminate protections for 50 percent of wetlands and 18 percent of stream miles across the country.
Before finalizing the 2015 version of the rule, the EPA held a 120-day comment period and ultimately allowed the public a total of 207 days to respond to the proposal. That was for a rule that made it clear that the Clean Water Act should apply to headwater streams and wetlands, because what happens upstream affects habitat downstream.
Additionally, the last administration held multiple listening sessions across the U.S. for the public to learn more about the 2015 rule. By contrast, only two in-person listening sessions were held on this new proposal—both in Kansas City. Elsewhere, sportsmen and women were not given this opportunity to hear from EPA staff or speak out in person about their concerns.
We think it should take more than two months of passively collecting comments to reverse course on decades of efforts to make America’s rivers, lakes, and streams fishable and swimmable. We think the EPA and Army Corps should have to face American sportsmen and women before stripping fish and wildlife habitat of Clean Water Act protection.
Sportsmen’s groups—along with elected officials, state agencies, and other organizations—requested an extension to the current comment period, but it was denied this week.
Since the EPA and Army Corps don’t want to give us more time, we need you to take action now. Our simple tool makes it easy to send a message to the EPA and your elected officials that hunters and anglers oppose this huge step backward for our wetlands and streams.
Top photo by USFWS/Katrina Mueller
TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation
Home waters: South-central Pennsylvania
Occupation: Flyfishing guide
Conservation credentials: Board member of the Cumberland Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited for 20 years
Thomas Baltz would need a time machine to fish the absolute best trout waters he’s ever seen, and that’s part of the reason why he feels compelled to give back to the natural resources that power his business. Here he shares the story of his first fish, his beloved old fishing dog, and a few special flies he takes everywhere.
My father introduced me to trout fishing at a very early age in New Mexico, and from then on, I was hooked. Our family used to spend a week or so during the summer months at a cabin on the Gallinas River in the Sangre De Cristo Mountains near Las Vegas. When my father went fishing, I tagged along, and he often let me play and land the trout he had hooked. But even as a little kid I realized that the real skill was in getting them hooked in the first place! I spent years trying to do it on my own.
Dad worked for the U.S. Geological Survey and was an expert on the geology of New Mexico and southern/southwestern Colorado. On days when he went tramping the mountains above Evergreen Valley, I roamed the Gallinas at will, with some kind of fishing rod in hand. Finally, one early-October afternoon in 1963, I landed my very first trout solo, and it remains one of the most memorable events of my life.
I had my old fishing dog Penelope (Penny, for short) with me, and together we snuck up on a likely spot, where I lowered a worm over the bushes and into the creek. There, a bite! Of course, I missed it. Never discouraged, I again lowered fresh bait exactly as I had before. The hook wasn’t even fully set, but it was too late for that trout—a couple of tugs and it was mine! Penny seemed just as excited as I was.
(Now, as a full-time flyfishing guide, I still carry some nymphs in my fly box made from Penny’s fur. They are, of course, retired, but they live in my Richardson Chest Fly Box.)
There have certainly been many other great outdoor moments in my life. Deer hunting, some awesome November days chasing pheasants, fishing trips to Montana, and learning the limestone streams of the Cumberland Valley.
In fact, if I could fish anywhere in the world it would be Falling Springs in Chambersburg, Pa., in 1972. It was the epitome of true limestone-spring creek match-the-hatch type of fishing, even better than out West, with awesome rainbow and brown trout that freely rose to incredible hatches.
Unfortunately, it is gone now. So I’d settle for the Missouri River in Montana. There is good hunting in that area as well. The decline in hunting opportunities is one thing I worry about here in south-central Pennsylvania.
Locally and regionally, our biggest conservation challenges are rampant development, poorly planned stormwater runoff, and agricultural issues, such as nutrient management and erosion. Climate change also offers immense challenges. One result of our changing climate is the big swing between dry and wet periods. Torrential rain events in combination with some of the aforementioned issues cause severe bank erosion in streams, contributing heavy silt loads to the Chesapeake Bay system and ruining stream habitat for all of the creatures that live there.
Trout, especially wild trout, depend upon clean water to survive and prosper, and therefore so does my business. Clean water is the backbone of our outdoor recreation economy, and that’s why we must protect it. Clean and well-functioning watersheds aren’t just an aesthetic attraction, they are the basis for all fishing. I make my living from the natural resource, and that’s why I give back to help preserve it.
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More