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September 23, 2019

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September 19, 2019

Omega Protein Breaks the Rules in Chesapeake Bay

Fishing groups call on Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and Department of Commerce to take immediate action

Recreational fishermen are demanding that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission intervene after industrial harvesting giant Omega Protein failed to comply with the Commission’s menhaden catch limits in the Chesapeake Bay.

Omega previously made a commitment to comply with the 51,000 MT catch limit, but just last week the foreign-owned corporation said it would exceed the cap in the Chesapeake Bay.

“While recreational fishermen face lower limits on striped bass, Omega is scooping up 70 percent of the coastwide catch of the striper’s primary food source,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Omega is willfully violating the Commission’s menhaden management plan, and this behavior is unacceptable. We urge the Commission and the Department of Commerce to bring this foreign fishing operation in line.”

Research suggests localized depletion of menhaden in Chesapeake Bay could be responsible for as much as a 30 percent decline in striped bass. A study determined the 2016 striped bass fishery generated $7.8 billion toward our nation’s gross domestic product.

“It’s frustrating and disappointing to see the menhaden Chesapeake Bay cap intentionally exceeded,” said Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “The Chesapeake Bay is a critical nursery for menhaden and many of its predators such as striped bass, which is why leaving sufficient menhaden in the Bay is so important. This action undermines not only the health of the marine environment, but also the science-based process the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission used to make their decision.”

“Just days after the Marine Stewardship Council christened the Atlantic menhaden fishery as a sustainable fishery, Omega Protein abruptly announced it will summarily disregard the harvest cap that was established through a legitimate management action of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission,” said Ted Venker, conservation director for the Coastal Conservation Association. “Our fears about the biased MSC process and Omega’s lack of commitment to consensus-based management and conservation have been shown to be well-founded. It is imperative that the ASMFC, and ultimately the Department of Commerce, find Omega out of compliance with the current Atlantic menhaden management plan and take the appropriate action.”

 

Top photo by Stephan Lowy.

Atlantic Striped Bass Are in Trouble and You Can Help

East Coasters have the chance to stand up for smart solutions to overfishing, including leaving more food in the water for stripers

Along much of the East Coast, sportfishing has been exceptional this summer. From red drum and cobia to flounder and Spanish mackerel, anglers have enjoyed great fun. A major exception, however, has been stripers. As in previous seasons, anglers reported seeing smaller, skinnier bass, particularly in the northern Atlantic.

This isn’t surprising, sadly. The 2018 stock assessment for striped bass confirms what we’ve seen on the water for far too long: Stripers are overfished and overfishing is still occurring. Unless decisive action is taken, this iconic sportfish is headed for serious trouble.

As required under their mandate, the fisheries managers at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission must reduce the annual fishing-related mortality for striped bass along the Atlantic coast and in the Chesapeake Bay. Their staff has recommended a minimum 18-percent reduction to reverse this troubling decline and get the species back on a healthy track.

The ASMFC is considering several options to achieve these reductions and will hold a final vote at its October meeting. In an effort to get input, commissioners are holding public hearings up and down the Atlantic coast to solicit comments from anglers and outdoor recreation businesses.

Showing up and speaking out at these meetings can make a big difference. When you step up to the microphone, here’s what the TRCP recommends supporting.

Sharing the Burden of Rebuilding the Stock

First, the TRCP believes that the ASMFC should reduce the overall catch equitably among both commercial and recreational fishing. We’re all out there benefiting from the resource, so we should all be part of the solution.

Limits We Can Live With

On the rec side, the TRCP’s preferred option is a one-fish-per-angler limit in the bay and along the Atlantic ocean. Any striper you keep in the Chesapeake would have to be 18 inches or longer and only stripers longer than 35 inches would be keepers out on open water within three miles of the shore.

This would help more rockfish reach spawning size, which in turn would boost overall population numbers.

Tip: At a hearing or in written comments, you’ll want to specifically say, “I support Options 2-A1 and 2-B1.”

Requiring Circle Hooks for Baitfishing

Research has shown that circle hooks can significantly decrease gut hooking, when used correctly. In turn, this reduces the number of rockfish that die after being released. This is an important step in reducing the overall mortality rate for these fish, with size limits to guide what fish you take and safer release standards for fish you throw back.

Tip: At a hearing or in written comments, you’ll want to specifically say, “I support Option B on circle hooks.”

Standing Strong for Menhaden

Angler conservation ethics and revised stripers rules can help the striped bass stock recover more quickly. Yet, as these sacrifices are being made, it makes no sense to allow the industrialized harvest of menhaden—the stripers’ primary food source—to increase. A single foreign-owned industrialized harvester sucks up more than 70 percent of the coastwide menhaden catch, and much of that is in the Chesapeake Bay. Research suggests localized depletion of menhaden in the bay could be responsible for as much as a 30-percent decline in striped bass.

That’s why the TRCP and our sportfishing partners have launched a campaign to ensure that coastal states and the ASMFC honor their commitment to moving forward on an ecosystem-based management model for menhaden. This would provide a more accurate accounting of menhaden’s critical role in the marine food chain.

The Bottom Line

The ASMFC is absolutely correct to take swift action—in fact, some Atlantic states, like Virginia, have already reduced seasons and bag limits on their own. This is laudable. The bottom line is that the TRCP wants to see the best possible outcome for stripers and their forage base, but we need anglers like you to get involved.

If you cannot attend a hearing in person, submit your public comment via email to comments@asmfc.org with “Striped Bass Draft Addendum VI” in the subject line. The deadline is 5 p.m. EST on October 7, 2019.

 

Capt. Chris Dollar is an outdoor writer, fishing guide, and outfitter based on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He has nearly 25 years of experience as an outdoors professional and is dedicated to conserving all things wild. He currently serves as program manager for the TRCP’s Atlantic menhaden conservation campaign.

 

Top photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program.

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September 16, 2019

Unlocking Inaccessible Public Lands Doesn’t Require Landowners to Give Up Their Property Rights

When it comes to improving access to landlocked public lands, we should work with—not against—private landowners

Since we first started our work with onX on the issue of landlocked public lands, we’ve heard many variations on the same question—from the comments section of our blogs to discussions with partners and decision-makers. The answer will not only set minds at ease, but it will also help lessen any harsh divide between the sportsmen and women who need better public lands access and the Americans fortunate enough to own land that borders public land.

Q: Would unlocking these inaccessible public lands require private landowners to give up their property?

A: The simple answer is no.

There are a wide variety of strategies for opening up landlocked lands that rely on the cooperation of willing landowners and pose no threat to the property rights of others. But because this is a sensitive subject, and there’s potential for misunderstanding, let’s dive a bit deeper into these solutions.

Our work on the landlocked issue has always been guided by two fundamental premises. First, we know that the future of hunting and fishing, conservation funding, and our $887-billion outdoor recreation economy depends on there being suitable public land access. At the same time, we know that private property rights—some of our nation’s most fundamental—are sacred, and landowners have always been some of the strongest allies for not only sportsmen and women but also fish and wildlife.

In bringing attention to the scope of the landlocked public lands challenge across the West, we have never suggested that solutions for public-land users should conflict with the rights of landowners. In fact, the best-available tools with which land trusts, conservation groups, and state and federal agencies can tackle this challenge depend on engaging with private property owners who are willing to work towards a solution.

After all, many Western landowners are hunters themselves and care about the future of our outdoor heritage. Many western landowners have also played important roles in opening public lands through creative voluntary efforts, including access easements, enrolling their lands into block management programs or similar access programs administered by the states, or simply saying “yes” if someone asks to access his or her property.

Though many landlocked public lands could be accessed with permission from surrounding landowners, we don’t believe that this should be all on them. Property owners shouldn’t be expected to provide access, though many generously do.

Even though the vast majority of sportsmen are ethical and conscientious, it’s important to recognize that allowing the public to hunt on or cross one’s land can result—because of the actions of an irresponsible minority—in property damage, disruptions to farm or ranch operations, and all sorts of complicated and time-consuming situations. That’s why, when we unveiled our first landlocked report at the 2018 TRCP Western Media Summit, we invited a local rancher and landowner from southwest Montana to speak about their experiences and give attendees a window into the reality of these challenges.

On the other hand, strategic land acquisitions from willing sellers, mutually beneficial land exchanges, easements of various types, walk-in access programs, and other incentive-based initiatives led by fish and wildlife agencies—all solutions featured in our state and federal landlocked report—either eliminate these challenges or help landowners manage access in a way that works best for them, without trammeling on their rights or diminishing the value of their property.

At the end of the day, even those landowners who are not themselves sportsmen and women share many of our values: clean air, clean water, healthy land, abundant fish and wildlife and the importance of getting the next generation outside. So, while it can be tempting when presented with a difficult challenge to lay blame or point fingers, we would insist that all champions of public land focus on collaborative, cooperative solutions that respect private property rights.

 

Photo: Nicholas Putz

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September 12, 2019

EPA Makes Final Move to Roll Back Clean Water Protections

Conservation groups rally together to voice support for fish and wildlife habitat, wetlands, and headwater streams

Conservation groups are opposing the Administration’s rollback of the 2015 Clean Water Rule, which was finalized today. The Administration’s action will leave roughly 50 percent of wetlands and 60 percent of stream miles across the country vulnerable to pollution and destruction. The 2015 Clean Water Rule had clarified longstanding Clean Water Act protections for millions of acres of wetlands and many headwater streams that protect communities from flooding, contribute to the drinking water supplies of one in three Americans, and provide essential fish and wildlife habitat that supports a robust outdoor recreation economy worth $887 billion.

“Sportsmen and women are outside every day experiencing the benefits of clean water,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Rolling back these protections for wetlands and headwater streams threatens our hunting and fishing traditions and the outdoor economy that powers our communities.”

“No one wants to fish a lake covered in toxic algae, duck hunt in a bulldozed wetland, or pitch a tent next to a creek filled with feces,” says Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “Unfortunately, this Administration is working on multiple fronts to rewrite the rules that protect our waters, hoping no one will notice. The collective impact of these changes would be devastating for public health and wildlife across the country—and we will continue to fight to protect America’s waterways every step of the way.”

“Clean water is a basic right of every American,” says Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “To be effective, the Clean Water Act must be able to control pollution at its source. Unfortunately today’s action by the EPA places the health of 60 percent of the stream miles and the drinking water of one in three Americans at risk. Trout Unlimited will not rest, and will use all of the tools at our disposal, to compel EPA to reverse course on this misguided direction.”

“More than 100 million people across the US engage in fish- and wildlife-based recreation, approximately half of whom participate in fishing,” says Patrick Berry, president and CEO of Fly Fishers International. “It is clear the opportunities available to enjoy these outdoor pursuits is directly limited by the health of our natural systems and their ability to support healthy and abundant populations of fish and wildlife. Rolling back protections of wetlands, our lakes streams and rivers—some of the most diverse and productive wildlife habitats—not only compromises our natural heritage, but threatens the cultural and economic value of recreational fishing.”

“This rule will irreparably impact wetlands in America’s duck factory—the prairie pothole region—and threaten the health of riparian habitat critical for big game and 80 percent of all wildlife species,” says Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “Weakened protections translate to lost access and reduced opportunities for hunting and fishing. Hunters and anglers must not stand for shortsighted polices that compromise the integrity of fish and wildlife habitats that have been safeguarded for decades under the Clean Water Act.”

“EPA’s decision to repeal the Clean Water Rule is wholly unsupported by science, can’t be squared with the clear intent of the Clean Water Act, and fails the common sense test,” says Scott Kovarovics, Executive Director of Izaak Walton League of America. “To make matters worse, this is only a prelude to the second blow when EPA finalizes a new rule later this year that will further undermine protections for small streams, wetlands, and drinking water supplies across America.”

“The EPA is tossing out 50 years of peer-reviewed science and in doing so threatens to undermine the integrity of the Nation’s waters that support fish and wildlife,” says Doug Austen, executive director of the American Fisheries Society. “Allowing unchecked pollution and destruction in the waters and wetlands in the upper reaches of a watershed imperils the sustainability of fish stocks in both upstream and downstream waters and places valuable recreational fisheries and endangered species at risk.”

In a 2018 poll, 80 percent of sportsmen and women said Clean Water Act protections should apply to headwater streams and wetlands. Additionally, 92 percent believe that we should strengthen or maintain current clean water standards, not relax them.

More information about the proposed changes to the Clean Water Rule is available HERE.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CHEERS TO CONSERVATION

Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.

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