October 9, 2019

Fishing the “Big Muddy” After the Floods

Facing a new normal, how should we adapt conservation and infrastructure policy to improve the health of the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast?

The Mississippi River finally fell below flood stage in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on August 4—a record 211 days after it reached this milestone in early January.

For those of us who live along the banks of the “Big Muddy” and its tributaries, 1927 and 1973 have been the high-water marks used to judge all other extraordinary floods. This year, the river stayed at or above flood stage in Mississippi and Louisiana as much as two months longer than in 1927.

Submerged city riverfronts and flooded towns and farmlands throughout the Mississippi River Basin dominated news reports the entire spring and early summer. The National Weather Service reported more rainfall in the Mississippi and Tennessee River systems in the winter and spring of 2019 than ever recorded.

It would be easy to attribute all the ills of the Mississippi River Basin this year to historic rainfall. Given the unprecedented amount of water spilling into and out of the Mississippi and tributaries, it’s likely that even a perfectly managed system of levees, floodgates, and spillways would have been overwhelmed.

Bonnet Carre Spillway in St. Charles Parish. Photo by flickr user cmh2315fl.

However, this flood was like pneumonia for a system already fighting a pretty bad case of bronchitis. For some perspective, the Bonnet Carré Spillway—which was built about 20 miles upriver of New Orleans in the wake of the 1927 flood to divert enough water into Lake Pontchartrain and prevent levee overtopping—was opened twice this year and four other times in the last decade.

In the previous seven decades, it had been opened only eight times.

The flood changed fishing throughout the basin. Crappie, bluegill, and bass anglers itching to fish oxbow lakes and swamps still attached to the rivers had to wait until well into summer months before fish moved into predictable patterns. Extended high water along coastal Louisiana and water from the Bonnet Carré inundated coastal marshes and lakes, scattering some saltwater species and killing oyster reefs east of the river.

What’s more, excessive nutrients leeched from farms and failing sewage systems throughout the Midwest caused high bacteria levels that shut down beaches along Mississippi’s coast and contributed to widespread uncertainty about the health of fish and shellfish in the area.

There were some benefits, too. An enormous slug of sediment is building new wetlands along the Mississippi River’s east bank below New Orleans, along with an explosion in the crawfish and largemouth bass populations. The freshwater concentrated redfish and gave them a variety of fresh and saltwater forage to feast on. And, as fall has arrived, white shrimp, crab, mullet, and menhaden populations are exploding east of the river, thanks to the nutrients brought by the freshwater.

Many factors have contributed to increased flooding frequencies. Higher levees built throughout the basin in the last 40 years keep forcing the water higher and higher instead of allowing it to spill out into natural floodplains. Also, changes in climate and weather patterns can’t be ignored. It’s a fact that rainfall has become more intense and more frequent over that last two decades.

Extensive wetland and farmland draining has reduced water storage and increased nutrient levels in the river. Tile-drained lands for corn, wheat, and soybeans simply don’t store water. And mismanaged sediment throughout the Mississippi has decreased storage capacity in reservoirs from the Dakotas to Nebraska, as well as in the main river channel between Memphis and Baton Rouge. That sediment is desperately needed to sustain coastal wetlands, however much of it stops short of the river’s deltaic marshes.

Recognizing the importance of the river to fisheries, wildlife, and America’s economy and culture, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has organized a campaign of hunting, angling, and conservation organizations to identify substantive changes in federal law and policy needed to make the Mississippi a much healthier system.

Those recommendations will include reconnecting historic floodplains, increasing the amount of wetland acreage throughout the basin, better sediment management and invasive species control, and a concerted effort to protect communities and economic assets with natural infrastructure as much as physical structures like levees and locks. It will certainly take an enormous amount of time and effort to enact changes, but their importance cannot be denied.

The result will hopefully be a river that is admired for its wild beauty and unparalleled hunting and fishing opportunities while supporting the transportation and communities that are vital to America’s economic health.

Learn more about the TRCP’s efforts to restore the Mississippi River Delta.

This story originally appeared on the Fishing Tackle Retailer website on September 26, 2019.

2 Responses to “Fishing the “Big Muddy” After the Floods”

  1. Shane N.

    Is the nickname regional? I’ve lived in Missouri my entire life and the Big Muddy has always been the Missouri River, while the Mississippi has always been the Mighty Mississippi.

  2. ElectricGuy

    Flooding of this magnitude is rare in the western US. It was predicted by the meteorologists. One of the causes that appears to be given little weight is the treatment of the farmland. Glyphosphate use increased steadily since the 1980’s and it is an effective herbicide of virtually all forms of plant life except genetic modified strains. This can leave the fields bare and prone to excessive runoff during a wet winter. Multiply this by millions of acres and it can be predicted that widespread flooding will occur if rainfall exceeds a certain amount during the non-planting season. The use of glyphosphate was just banned in Germany and most of Europe has already banned it. Perhaps we should look at doing this also. It is more than an agricultural issue.

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posted in: Outdoor Economy

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.

September 9, 2019

TRCP Adds 60th Partner to its Policy Council of Conservation Experts

Our diverse coalition reaches a new milestone

The National Alliance of Forest Owners has joined the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership as its 60th organizational partner, marking a major milestone for the coalition-building organization. This newest addition to the TRCP’s expert Policy Council rounds out an impressive and diverse group of organizations that read like a who’s who of the hunting, fishing, and conservation community and collectively represent millions of Americans.

“We’re so proud to continue expanding our ranks in service of building consensus and empowering advocates across our community to effect real policy change for fish, wildlife, habitat, conservation funding, and sportsmen’s access—this is why the TRCP exists,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO.

“Private forest owners in the U.S. care for more than 450 million acres of forestland–60% of the nation’s forests–and the abundant wildlife that call our forests home,” says Dave Tenny, founding president and CEO of NAFO. “NAFO brings the nationwide scale of privately owned, sustainably managed forests and a deep-rooted commitment to collaborative conservation to the TRCP, where we are looking forward to working closely with partners to advance real conservation outcomes.”

Other recent additions to the partnership include The Conservation Fund, Wild Salmon Center, Property and Environment Research Center, and Outdoor Recreation Roundtable.

All 60 organizational partners meet at least twice a year to find alignment and consensus on conservation priorities, while working groups dedicated to specific issue areas meet frequently to collaborate and track progress. It is a coalition of the willing, with no membership dues and the understanding that, while we won’t agree on everything, we have a better chance of success when we unite behind the things we can agree on.

To see the full roster of partners, click here.

August 16, 2019

Four Conservation Priorities That Need Lawmakers’ Attention After Recess

When Congress returns from about a month spent with in-state constituents, the clock will be ticking on these spending bills and conservation policies we need to get across the finish line

You might be picturing lawmakers on a five-week vacation, but the annual August recess is time that senators and representatives spend meeting with their constituents and visiting with leaders in their communities. Ideally, they also find some time to enjoy the outdoors and experience what we all value so much as sportsmen and women.

Of course, we hope they’re thinking about the legislative to-do list for when they return in September, because the timeline grows short for several critical conservation items that must be addressed to benefit fish, wildlife, and habitat. Here’s what we need Congress to move on before the end of the year or, in some cases, within weeks of their return to Capitol Hill.

Settle Up on Spending

A familiar debate awaits when Congress returns to Washington: writing and passing all the required appropriations, or annual spending, bills. Now that both the House and Senate have reached a two-year, bipartisan budget deal they must pass appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2020, which starts on October 1. This means that Congress must find a way to fund the government for the next year before the end of September, or they risk another government shutdown.

The House’s spending measures passed earlier this summer include landmark wins for conservation including strong investments in—and in some cases new funding for—Farm Bill conservation programs, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, chronic wasting disease surveillance and research, and critical infrastructure projects from the Everglades to the Front Range.

The ball is now in the Senate’s court to support conservation in their own appropriations bills and send it all to the president’s desk. What happens if they don’t? The government shuts down while they agree on a deal or lawmakers can give themselves an extension by passing what’s known as a continuing resolution. CRs keep money flowing at previously agreed upon funding levels, but they prevent new funding going to something like CWD research that has never been done before.


Pave the Road Ahead for the Highway Bill

Before leaving town, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously passed a new highway bill that includes a powerful new tool for conservation: a $250-million pilot program to construct wildlife crossings such as overpasses, underpasses, and culverts across the country over the next five years.

State departments of transportation, wildlife biologists, and conservationists have been urging Congress to provide dedicated funding for crossings to restore and improve habitat connectivity within migration corridors and reduce deadly wildlife-vehicle collisions where animals are often found crossing roads.

This also marks the first time that climate change language has been included in a highway bill. As written, the legislation creates a grant program called PROTECT to prioritize natural infrastructure solutions as roads and bridges are being planned, which would help to restore and improve ecosystem conditions around passenger roads.

All in all, senators on the committee have been trailblazers for conservation in the next iteration of the highway bill. Now, it’s on the House to get the job done.

In fact, the House can do even more for conservation in its forthcoming version of the bill by increasing funding for the Federal Lands Transportation Program, which supports the ongoing maintenance of passenger roads through public lands. Carrying on the chronic underfunding of U.S. Forest Service roads through FLTP will contribute to an already colossal deferred maintenance backlog on these important public lands.

Photo by Michigan DNR.
Modernize the Pittman-Robertson Act

The TRCP and our conservation partners have been leading the charge to update a vital source of funding for state fish and wildlife agency conservation efforts—the Pittman-Robertson Act. Right now, the fund created from excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment can’t be used to help recruit, retain, and reactivate (R3) hunters.

It’s time for that to change.

Congress has already updated the policy for fishing-related spending to give state agencies the ability to recruit new anglers. And this has likely helped to drive the recent bump in fishing participation and a more than 36-percent increase in spending on fishing equipment, which in turn creates an increase in funding for conservation.

It’s time for Congress to modernize Pittman-Robertson and allow similar outreach campaigns for hunters. Before the recess began, the Senate introduced S. 2092, a companion bill to the House’s H.R. 877. These bipartisan bills, aptly titled the Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act, are essential to help fund, preserve, and grow our rich heritage of hunting.
Last Congress, a similar measure passed unanimously out of the House but did not make the end-of-year finish line. Now that the legislation has been introduced in both chambers, passage of this long-overdue legislation is a no-brainer. It’s a bipartisan success story waiting to happen.

Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Reviving These Fish Bills

From the Gulf to the Great Plains, there’s a lot happening this summer that affects our fisheries and the anglers who enjoy them, including pending legislation that deserves a vote without further delay.
The National Fish Habitat Through Partnerships Act—H.R. 1747 in the House and S. 754 in the Senate—would permanently authorize and provide funding for one of the nation’s best tools to protect and restore fish habitat across the nation. Comprised of 20 individual partnerships that advocate for regionally specific projects, this model has been effective for years but still limps from authorization to authorization, depending on the whims of Congress.

But legislation introduced in both chambers is vote-ready and can end this vicious cycle.

Another easy win would be passing legislation to conserve forage fish, which support all the sportfish we love to pursue. Numerous pressures, including changing ocean conditions and overfishing by commercial interests, have led to a decline in forage fish populations, which could shorten or even end recreational fishing seasons for the predators that rely on these baitfish.

Bipartisan legislation in the House, the Forage Fish Conservation Act (H.R. 2236), aims to ensure that forage fish remain in the marine food web by introducing a variety of commonsense, science-based provisions into existing management plans. These include creating a national, science-based definition for forage fish in federal waters, accounting for predator needs, assessing the impact of commercial fisheries on marine ecosystems before authorization, and requiring that managers consider forage fish when establishing research priorities.

Anglers are dependent on forage fish to keep our fisheries healthy and we are, in turn, depending on Congress to act now on this major conservation priority.

Image courtesy of National Parks.
A Challenging Timeline

Numerous conservation-wins-in-waiting are ready for congressional action once lawmakers return to Capitol Hill. Though the most pressing demand for legislators will be drafting and passing appropriations bills that strengthen our nation’s investment in conservation, we need to turn their attention to other measures that preserve wildlife, improve habitat connectivity, and ensure the future of our hunting traditions.

After the spending deadline has passed, the 2020 election will take a lot of the air out of the room, and we need to clinch these victories before that happens.



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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