Marnee Banks

August 5, 2020

Anglers Praise Decision to Strengthen Striped Bass Populations

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission votes to improve menhaden management

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted unanimously today to improve management strategies for Atlantic menhaden, by requiring consideration for the small baitfish’s impact on fish up the food chain. Economically important sportfish such as striped bass rely on healthy menhaden populations for survival.

After recreational anglers weighed in, the Commission adopted the new ecological management system, which considers the needs of predator species and will begin the process of allowing fish like striped bass to meet population targets. Menhaden is the first fishery on the east coast to shift to an ecosystem management approach.

“This landmark decision represents a new era in fisheries management,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We are grateful for the Commission’s support of comprehensive strategies that support the entire Atlantic ecosystem. This decision will spur healthier menhaden and gamefish populations while supporting the recreational fishing economy along the eastern seaboard.”

The Commission has worked diligently for over a decade to thoroughly vet several ecosystem models that led to the development and implementation of these ecological reference points for Atlantic menhaden. The selected model includes important predator species like Atlantic striped bass and bluefish as well as alternative prey such as Atlantic herring. Ultimately, these reference points can be used to set quotas that will help ensure enough menhaden are left in the water to help Atlantic striped bass, bluefish and Atlantic herring rebuild from overfished conditions.

“Today’s decision is a critical step towards acknowledging that forage fish like menhaden are ecologically important to recreationally important species like striped bass and bluefish,” said Mike Leonard vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “A healthy Atlantic menhaden stock, and quotas that account for the needs of predators, is the science-based management we look for to help support a healthy ecosystem and the sportfishing opportunities it provides.”

“As recreational anglers, we commend the board for adding this new tool to the tool box which allows for a more holistic approach to managing the coast’s most valuable forage for striped bass and many other important recreationally caught gamefish species,” said David Sikorski, executive director of Coastal Conservation Association Maryland.

“The implementation of the ecological reference points for Atlantic menhaden represents a significant step in advancing science-based fisheries management,” said Chris Horton, senior director of fisheries policy of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “For the first time, we now have a model that can account for the need to leave menhaden in the water for the benefit of other important fisheries and the marine ecosystem as a whole.”

“Recreational boaters and anglers stand behind science-backed conservation efforts to maintain the health of our nation’s fisheries,” said Adam Fortier-Brown, government relations manager of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. “This is why our community has come out so strongly in support of the approved Atlantic menhaden management plan, which would support the whole ecosystem and begin the process of bringing back populations of prized fish like striped bass, bluefish, and weakfish.”

According to a recent scientific study, menhaden reduction fishing contributes to a nearly 30 percent decline in striped bass numbers. The striped bass fishing industry contributes $7.8 billion in GDP to the economy along the Atlantic coast.

 

Top photo by David Blinken.

One Response to “Anglers Praise Decision to Strengthen Striped Bass Populations”

  1. John G. Gans

    Finally! This great news for anglers. The multi species model for managing menhaden can act as a model for all forage fish. We are on our way to better sportfishing.

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Marnee Banks

August 4, 2020

President Signs Great American Outdoors Act Into Law

TRCP’s CEO attends White House signing ceremony

President Donald Trump today signed bipartisan legislation that invests in America’s public lands, waters, and outdoor economy.

Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, was among the conservation leaders who were invited to attend the historic signing of the Great American Outdoors Act.

“Hunters and anglers across the nation have a reason to celebrate today,” said Fosburgh. “The Great American Outdoors Act is the product of years of hard work by all segments of the outdoor community, from hunters and anglers to hikers and kayakers. To all the lawmakers who carried the water on Capitol Hill, we say thank you, and we thank President Trump for signing the bill into law. Today is proof that conservation stands above partisanship and political rancor.”

The Great American Outdoors Act fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million annually, and invests $9.5 billion over the next five years to address the maintenance backlog on federal public lands.

More information about the bill is available here.

Randall Williams

August 3, 2020

BLM Releases Final Montana Management Plans that Conserve Key Backcountry Lands

Backcountry Conservation Areas near Missoula and Lewistown will safeguard recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat

(Missoula, Mont.)–The Bureau of Land Management today announced it’s finalizing new Resource Management Plans in western and central Montana that will shape hunting and fishing opportunities for generations to come.

These two plans will guide the future of forest and grassland management, wildlife habitat, fisheries conservation, and outdoor recreation on approximately 900,000 acres of public lands east of Missoula, surrounding Lewistown, and in and around the Missouri River Breaks. In response to requests from sportsmen and women, the final plans include Backcountry Conservation Areas, a new multiple-use framework aimed at conserving prized big game habitat and hunting and fishing areas.

“Thanks to these plans sportsmen and women will experience high-quality big game hunting in places like the Hoodoos and Ram Mountain in the Missoula area, as well as Arrow and Crooked Creeks in central Montana,” said Scott Laird, Montana Field Representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We appreciate that the Montana BLM listened to the input of many hunters and anglers and adopted Backcountry Conservation Areas in the final plans.”

The Missoula Field Office plan guides the management of local landmarks including the Blackfoot River corridor and portions of the Garnet and John Long mountain ranges. The revision process was formally initiated in early 2016 with a scoping phase and then the draft plan was published in May 2019. Hunters, anglers, the state of Montana, tribal representatives, Missoula County, and other entities spoke up in support of Backcountry Conservation Areas in the highest value wildlife and recreation areas. Those comments are reflected in the final plan.

In the Lewistown Field Office, which encompasses some of Montana’s best elk hunting units in the Missouri River Breaks, the planning revision process unfolded along a parallel timeline to Missoula’s. Similarly, strong support from the sporting community, the state of Montana, and local conservation groups led BLM decision-makers to include Backcountry Conservation Areas in the Crooked Creek and Arrow Creek areas.

“While the Lewistown RMP didn’t include everything we asked for, we are grateful that our comments generated some compromise, said Doug Krings, the Region 4 Chapter Leader for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “In particular, the addition of the BLM’s new Backcountry Conservation Areas—which ensure that wildlife and wild places will stay intact and productive for hunters and other outdoor recreationists—is something that all public land owners are pleased to see.”

“The recently released plans are not perfect, but Trout Unlimited appreciates changes in the final Lewistown plan that give greater consideration for the conservation and restoration of rare native trout populations in the Judith Mountains,” said Colin Cooney, Montana field coordinator for Trout Unlimited.  “We also feel that this RMP sets a new, much-welcomed standard for stream buffers in the West and one that we are going to work with other field offices to adopt in a region where economic diversity is so important. Specifically, the plan includes ½ mile oil and gas development buffers for all Blue and Red Ribbon fisheries, native trout streams, and streams suitable for restoring populations of Westslope cutthroat trout. We thank the BLM for including this necessary, balanced, and common-sense bar of protection for our most important trout fisheries.”

In collaboration with landowners, local government officials, and other stakeholder groups, several hunting and fishing organizations helped activate sportsmen and women to provide meaningful feedback on the draft plans that was then incorporated into the final proposals.

 

Photo: Charlie Bulla

Kristyn Brady

July 31, 2020

Pebble Mine Was Too Risky Then, and It’s Too Risky Now

Despite the results of the Army Corps’ final environmental impact statement, sportsmen and women still oppose greenlighting the copper and gold mine permit

In 2014, the EPA all but doomed the now-infamous Pebble Mine proposal on the grounds that it would irrevocably damage Bristol Bay’s sockeye salmon fishery. But last week, the Army Corps of Engineers concluded in its final environmental impact statement that the mine would not have a measurable effect on fish numbers.

Now, the Corps could give the green light to dig in the headwaters of Bristol Bay in as little as 20 days, even though its study confirms that Pebble would destroy 185 miles of streams and over 4,000 acres of wetlands in the most prolific sockeye salmon fishery on the planet.

Photo by Tim Romano.

This decision would do harm to:

  • A $1.5-billion economy that supports over 15,000 jobs for lodge owners, guides, commercial fishermen, fish processors, tourism operators, and more.
  • One of the most sought-after sportfishing destinations in the country.
  • 31 federally recognized Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq tribes that depend on salmon to support their way of life.
  • More than 50 percent of the world’s catch of sockeye salmon.
  • The broader habitat at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, where Pebble would permanently store 10.2 billion tons of toxic waste.
  • Taxpayers, who would be stuck footing the bill for pollution and habitat damage.
Photo by Fly Out Media.

Oh, and did we mention that Pebble Mine investors wouldn’t even be satisfied with the project as it has been proposed? You see, to get the permit, the applicant substantially shrank the footprint of the mine from what they were proposing five years ago.

Looking at only the current plan, which would extract only a part of the mineral deposit at the site, economists estimate that the mine will lose $3 billion in its first 20 years unless it is expanded. A bigger footprint means more habitat degradation. Witnesses testified on this point before the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment last fall.

As sportsmen and women, we are once again in a pivotal moment to speak out against Pebble Mine. We know you’ve heard this at various points in the process for the better part of a decade spanning two presidential administrations. (Here’s our appeal after a mildly positive development in 2018.)

Photo by Paul Nicoletti.

But the fact that the proposal was once off the table based on the impact to fish habitat should energize us all to stay engaged. We cannot give up now.

The House voted yesterday to block permitting of Pebble Mine in an amendment to a $1.3-trillion spending package under consideration today. Sportsmen and women need to send a message to senators and the White House and request that national decision-makers intervene to save Bristol Bay.

Take Action Now

For more information on Pebble Mine threats, visit savebristolbay.org. Top photo by Fly Out Media.

Melinda Kassen

July 24, 2020

This New Rule Deals Another Serious Blow to Fish Habitat and Wetlands

While the conservation world focused on the Great American Outdoors Act, the administration quietly limited the states’ authority to protect water quality

It feels unfair to be writing about bad news for water quality as we celebrate such a hard-earned victory for public lands this week. Certainly, with the year we’ve been having, all Americans needed a win. But those of us who have been fighting the dismantling of Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands needed a morale boost even more. Here’s why:

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency quietly finalized changes to Clean Water Act rules that allowed states to look out for their own water quality as development activities needing federal permits are proposed that may affect the rivers, streams, and wetlands. What is noteworthy from an administration that usually champions states’ rights is how this rule removes state power.

The EPA’s new rule deals with the “401 certification” process, which is an important, if obscure, Clean Water Act authority. To understand how it works, you need to know two things:

  1. Federal agencies permit thousands of construction activities across the country each year. The Army Corps of Engineers typically issues permits for building roads, bridges, shopping malls, housing developments, dams, and diversions that touch the nation’s water bodies—inland and coastal, big and little—and wetlands. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licenses hydropower facilities and transmission pipelines.
  2. The Clean Water Act authorizes states to tell these federal agencies what conditions to include in their federal permits that will protect the state’s water quality from the adverse effects of development.
Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service.

 

At least twice since the mid-1990s, the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed the broad scope of states’ authority under section 401 of the Clean Water Act. In the first of these cases, the State of Washington successfully required a dam operator to maintain healthy river flows for the resident salmon fishery. That’s just one example of how this process has provided checks and balances to benefit fish and wildlife.

To be clear, the states’ role is not to prevent development. With tens of thousands of certifications issued annually, half the states who responded to an EPA survey reported zero denials. Because projects need certification, the process is usually one where states and applicants work together to find ways for development to proceed without compromising water quality, habitat, or outdoor recreation opportunities.

The new rule would fundamentally change this process, which has existed for 50 years.
Most dramatically, it limits the states to imposing only conditions that relate directly to water quality standards that EPA approves. So, if a bridge were proposed across a stream that currently supports a recreational fishery and provides fishing access, the state could not require that substitute access be provided close by, because EPA does not do this work.

States can no longer institute certain flow requirements—like Washington did to save its salmon—or require a permittee to build or maintain fish passage, even when the permitted activity would fragment an intact fishery’s habitat.

And states will no longer be able to require water quality protection for the streams and wetlands that the federal government no longer protects under the new “waters of the US” rule. (Here’s my post about that.) According to Trout Unlimited scientists, this is 50 percent of the nation’s stream miles and 40 percent of wetlands, like the prairie potholes of the Upper Midwest.

The rule finalized last week also tightens timelines for the states to take action. States issue most of their certifications in less than six months, but large complex infrastructure reviews take more time. It is appropriate to ask regulators to work quickly, but this new rule shifts the power to applicants. The clock starts to run when applicants first put in a basic request—not when a state receives a complete application, with all the information needed for analysis and decision.

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Why these changes? In 2019, in Executive Order 13868, President Trump directed the EPA to change the certification process “to encourage greater investment in energy infrastructure.” Regardless of the importance of this policy, it is unrelated to the only objective of the Clean Water Act, to restore the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of our nation’s waters.

The 401 certification change will almost certainly mean less clean water for fish and wildlife, especially when added to the administration’s rule rolling back environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, also finalized last week, and the rule I mentioned shrinking Clean Water Act protection by almost half.

During debate over the latter, the administration argued that the states could use their authority to protect the headwaters and wetlands that the federal government would no longer regulate. But this latest change constrains the states’ ability to do just that.

While EPA takes contrary positions regarding state authority, the beneficiaries of these rules are the same—those who want to build pipelines without having to safeguard fish and wildlife. These developers also win under the NEPA rule changes.

Sadly, the losers may be those of you reading this blog.

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
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